Winter in my World

As March begins our ranch has completed three months of our easier days. Problems and challenges definitely arise in winter, and this winter has been no different, but since New Years the weather has been gentler than normal and mechanical and animal problems that have arisen have been possible to handle without too much stress. That has meant some easier days for Russ and I both. I am not feeling restored exactly, but some things are shifting and that is good.

This morning I pored over our phones for pictures that might remind me of what we have been up to. There are definite themes that emerge. Around Valentines Day there were many experiences that connect to “love.”

This picture was taken by one of my extended family in Nova Scotia. Sarah Barnes has been finding heart shapes in many places and made a facebook album about it that she shared. Sarah gave me permission to grab pictures from her post and use them here.

An amazing fundraiser was held in our community last month, with a Valentines Day theme. It was to support a family who are dealing with a really tricky health problem. The fundraiser was put on by a team of extended family and friends and their effort was incredible. They created a real party and raised a huge amount of money. We had so much fun. As I visited with a friend who is originally from Ontario, she told me, “this would never happen where I grew up.” Her observations made me ponder just how significant our small town loyalty and love to each other is. There is so much history, shared experience, family connection and shared vulnerability (I mean none of us live close to advanced health care, it could be any one of us needing help tomorrow), and so we pull together and an event like we attended happens. Large sums of energy and money were flowing, it was sacrificial, that is love in action.

Our friend Jen took this picture of us. I am wearing a blazer that I bought in 1993 with birthday money from my Nanny. I hold onto it for sentimental reasons and you never know when a Christmas or Valentines event will warrant pulling it out!

The first 5 weeks of our winter rest time held hard stuff. The fire in our shop on December 18th has played havoc with my sense of security. Many mornings since that scary day I have risen and the first thing I do is look out the window to look for any fire. It is not rational but its real. The fundraiser I referred to above involves a family we have connection to in multiple ways, the struggles they hold affect our hearts too. Also, a young woman from our community was involved in a crazy injury while away on her honeymoon, the random-ness of that, picturing her so debilitated, and knowing her husband and family were faced with so much, has felt like a blow. Cory is a very special person. At a young age she already has a reputation for her loving care of the elders in our community as an RN. She makes a big difference. Her injury has been unsettling for our whole community. Remarkably, her recovery is going incredibly well, a testament to the inner strength she is known for and the love and prayers of the many. I think the fire, illness and injury have had a de-stabilizing effect on me, reminders that things can “go south” very quickly. Against that troubling backdrop a vivid good thing happened. Very early in February I said to Russell, “are we going to do a Valentines card this year?” Last year we had experimented with that and had fun. We don’t do so well at Christmas cards. Russ was certain that we needed to do that. With some hesitation in me I brought my laptop to bed, went on the Mixbook site and with a cup of coffee at my side I got to creating a card. I took the morning to do it. It felt like a really creative act and allowed me to think about love and what I believe and how it plays out in our family. The process I worked through and the thought of sharing the card with people had me feeling something I realized I had not felt in a long time. I felt happy. Its sad to say that someone as blessed as I am was not really feeling happy, but there were clouds for me to reckon with that were very real. In the creation of the card, the sun shone through brightly. The first day I dumped a bunch in the box at the post office I felt like I had a miracle in my hands, our efforts were going forth and would be literally touched by people we love in many different places. How could I not smile? Canada Post was part of our team and working its magic again.

We had to work at getting the cards ready in batches. We were under time pressure if we were to have them in mailboxes by the 14th. This was an early morning work bee. I got up first and borrowed Russell’s robe. When he got up and wanted something warm to sit in he grabbed what he could see, my poncho. I love this quirky picture of him, he has an Elton John vibe going on with those fancy reading glasses he is wearing and a draping and fringy garment. He gave me permission to share this photo.
It is our tradition to eat cinnamon buns and bacon for breakfast on Valentines Day. In years past we set the table with a few special touches. With just the three of us home it was breakfast on the counter instead. Thanks to a January 4th trip to Minot, where the Valentines candy displays were up and full of such fun things, I had this twix bar set in my closet just waiting for this day! The kids and Ron and a few of our people in town got treats too.
Russell took this picture of me in the afternoon on Valentines Day. I was entertaining at one of our local nursing homes. It was really a fun time for me. I love singing, the songs were well received, old friends were there and it felt right.

The day after Valentines our neighbor Steven suffered a serious heart attack. After a few days of intensive intervention he passed. This is a shocking and deeply saddening event. He was just 60 and very beloved. I was asked to conduct the funeral. The preparations for that, the anxieties I hold about such things, dealing with the sadness in our own household, all of this… really shaped last week. The funeral was held in the same hall that we were in two weeks prior for the fundraiser. Steven was at that fundraiser. It is his grand-daughter that is so sick. This family is holding so much right now. The ties that bind us mean we are all holding many thoughts, feelings and prayers and the community spaces where we gather hold so many stories and so many memories.

This is another one of Sarah’s Nova Scotia heart images. I post this one here in honor of Steven and his huge heart. It was a privilege to speak of it at the funeral.

Russ and I headed to Brandon this week to pick up springs for our jeep. Russ is getting ready for calving season. The routines of that make his jeep one of his best friends. Also, he has been asking Jill and I to help him make his chaps more workable. They were made with solid leather to the bottom and with age were getting increasingly stiff and messing with his boots. We took heavy scissors and those chaps with us on our parts run to Brandon, I used much of my passenger time making the bottoms into fringe, which will work much better for Russ. I got a blister from my efforts. Is that not love? Meanwhile he drove terrible ice covered roads most of the way home, he kept us out of the ditch but barely. It was one of those warm and windy days where loose snow catches and freezes on the highway and we weren’t expecting it. Russ was thrilled with the chaps renovation.

The chaps

As I finish up this post I am struck by a couple things. This is a heavy post and it contains more info about other people’s stories than I am used to sharing. Maybe that is the truth about this theme, love, it is a heavy matter. We all need it. Its easy and its hard. Its costly. And how do we talk about love without realizing our connection to one another? Other people’s stories are a part of our stories when love is in the mix. (About that……I don’t believe I have shared anything about others struggles that was not already publicly shared, respecting people’s privacy is important to me.)

I have one final image to tie this up, it is one of Sarah’s pictures. Perhaps Sarah’s alertness to heart shapes in nature can be a reminder and an invitation to me, and to all of us, to be alert, on the look-out, for signs of love where they are found, sometimes in surprising places. As we capture them in our minds, our memories, clouds get pushed aside I think. As plentiful as these rocks of infinite shapes are on the beach, there is evidence of love everywhere.

Celtic Solidarity?

Preamble: I am struggling to get this post written and posted. I started it and almost finished it a week ago, so the contents might seem odd, timewise. I am sitting in a waiting room now, Russ is getting his eyes tested and new glasses ordered. Here is what I have ……

After Hurricane Fiona left Nova Scotia we had lots of messages go back and forth with our friends and family there.   Our hearts were so heavy for them.    I had the cell number for one of the family that I only just met for the first time in our recent trip.  Despite not feeling super connected I wanted to check in.  I knew that Gary was a very busy man with lots on his plate but I risked bugging him.   It turned out that Gary is very generous with words and stories and we have been texting back and forth almost every day.  His messages have given me goose bumps as he has detailed how the neighbors are looking out for each other.  His family seems to have an especially tender spot for the widows who need help with generators and dealing with their isolation.  It has inspired me and warmed my heart.  He has also sent me many photos, including this picture of one of the blueberry fields in autumn. I find it so gorgeous.

I find one of the hard parts of having my people going through hard things is the powerless feeling I often have as they struggle. Especially when the distance between us means we can be of no practical assistance.  We simply sit here and wonder and imagine what it’s like.  We pray too, for their strength and their peace amid everything. In some situations, like this one, that seems to be the extent of what we can do.

I think this is why a few days ago I got a somewhat silly notion in my head.  I looked at the earrings I was wearing, I had put them on the last full day we were in Nova Scotia. Russ had bought them for me at the Halifax Citadel gift shop.   As I looked in the mirror I thought to myself, “its time to change your earrings Kathy!” But even as I considered that something in me was already resisting it.  I got thinking, “I am not taking these off until our people all have their power back on.”  Well, Monday morning the message finally came in from Gary, a New Brunswick power man had come in their yard and said, “you can turn your generator off.”  (Can you just imagine how momentous those words would sound after 9+ days without power?) The washing machine was put to use almost immediately Gary told me.  Later that day standing in front of the mirror I contemplated that with the Fentons, the Mannings, and all 3 Brown homes now back on it was time to change my earrings.  But then figured, “no, I am not ready, not yet, my people have power but many still do not.”  I decided then that I would keep them on until every person in Nova Scotia has their power back.  The first thing Gary told me yesterday morning is that 8000 homes in Pictou and Colchester counties are still without.    I will be wearing my Celtic knot earrings for a while yet it seems.

This is all stupid, in a way.  Maybe quite boring as the main subject of a blog post.  But something tells me there is something here.

Do my actions illumine just how very uncomfortable I am when I feel powerless to make a difference?  Yes. Absolutely true about me. Is this common for humans?  I think so.

Do my actions make any difference? No. There is no way my earring choice shifts anything for anyone.

But maybe it’s an act of solidarity. Maybe, when I really analyze the crap out of this, it says “I can’t help you, but if you are dealing with limits I can too.”

Maybe by wearing the earrings bought in Nova Scotia, representing a piece of their Celtic heritage, I am carrying a piece of them on me at all times, maybe thats a tiny form of solidarity.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the wisdom that actions speak louder than words. Maybe the wearing of the earrings and the pondering that goes with that is a form of prayer. I think about the Holy Spirit quite a bit lately. I think about how the Spirit might serve as a courier, taking the love and courage and peace I have to share, from me to those I pray for. (I then trust that God is refilling me so that I have enough for myself and more to share with others.)

That’s all I got written until today….a week later. If my understanding of the Nova Scotia Power Map is correct there are still some without power. I am still wearing the earrings.

If you look it up on Google you will find that the Celtic knot (the symbol used for my earrings) takes on many forms. It has various meanings.

One of its characteristics is that while a Celtic knot may look like it has distinct sections or parts, in fact it is made with one single strand that weaves back through itself and is not tightened, or in other words, is held loosely, it has no beginning and no end.

I really love the symbolism of this. It is a visual reminder of the connection that exists between us and the unique forms our friend and family groups take. The reality of knots that are not tight says something important too I think. Obviously sometimes tight knots are important, I am a rancher, I see this regularly. But the tie that binds friends and family together, across vast distances and through hard times can be held gently, can be a means for our prayers of love, mercy, courage and strength to flow freely.

As I wear these earrings in the days and years ahead they will be a reminder of our trip. They have become more. I am so grateful for our Nova Scotia history, our Brown family there, our Fenton and Manning friends, and the invisible and gently woven strand that connects us to them. In these post hurricane days my earrings have become a testament to love and a reminder to pray.

How do you solve a problem like Kaklika?

A piece of art at the convent that really touched me.

In a recent blog I spoke about finding my way to taking a vacation in a convent in Toronto.    In this blog I want to write about a learning that came up as that unfolded. 

What happened at the convent is part of the story, the rest happened earlier this spring.  The earlier part happened when I was talking with someone I love alot and I don’t get to talk to in a personal way very often at all.   My go to approach when I want to bond with someone is to ask them questions and try and listen well.  As this conversation unfolded I became very curious about how a particular part of their life story unfolded.  I asked questions.  Unfortunately my questions were not received as they were meant, an invitation to share.  I was given the feedback that my questions were received as implying that this person was not qualified to be where they are, and it felt to them like I was judging them.  I was kind’ve shocked.  I back pedalled, explained, and apologized for the impression given.  We parted ways for a bit, a half hour where my own brain kicked in and said, “wait a minute, I am the one that should be offended, you think that I am sitting here, a person who loves you, and my whole agenda is judgment?!?!?!”  It was tough.   When we reunited a little later words of apology and a hug set things straight.  For me, a big piece of this, besides sadness at how confusing things can get with human relationships, the big piece was me having that “wait a minute!” moment.  The moment where I claimed back a little space for myself.  Where I said, “hey, just cause someone is upset doesn’t mean I am the problem.” 

Fast forward to Friday night and the tables were turned.  It was me expecting judgment from someone, when I had no real reason to and I suddenly understood a bunch of the subtle layers of this earlier encounter better.  

I arrived in Toronto before lunch on Friday.  My cousin Doug picked me up at the airport and we joined my cousin Lori, my Uncle Ted and his love Susan at their condo.   It was so nice to see my family again, it had been a long while. 

Uncle Ted married my Mom’s sister Carol.  In 2006 Auntie Carol lost her battle with brain cancer.  It was a pleasure to meet Susan on this trip and be warmly welcomed to her home.

Our visit was cut short by the reality that I needed to check in at the convent between 2-4 pm.  I couldn’t really imagine that anything in Toronto could be more than an hour away on the subway but Doug knew full well.  With his insight the visit with my family ended in time, hopefully, to get me to the convent door by 4pm.  It was a rushed ending and I felt badly about that.  As Doug was braving the Friday afternoon Toronto traffic getting me to the closest subway station he got a phone call. It was Lori, I had forgotten my laptop.  With the traffic and the deadline we opted not to turn back.  Something else would have to get figured out.

It did….Doug drove it all the way to the convent the next day.  I took this picture because I told him I needed a record of my knight in shining armor.  He downplayed it.

Back to Friday afternoon….with a little help I figured out the ticket situation and got myself and my luggage onto a subway train. Got off that one and successfully transfered to the next before an ominous announcement happened. There was a fire up the tracks somewhere and it meant the whole thing was coming to a halt and everyone had to evacuate.  I made my way to the surface.   As I remember it I kind’ve stumbled into the sunlight on Yonge street absolutely unclear as to what I should do next.  I had already called the convent and gotten permission to arrive a bit late.  How late could I push that?   After discovering that due to increased demand an Uber would cost 72$ I opted for a bus.  But a call to the convent to check in had the guest house coordinator checking TTC for me and telling me the good news that the line was up and running again.  It felt like a miracle.  I went back down below and with little extra drama arrived at the spot where I could transfer to a bus for the last leg of my journey and make my way to the convent.  I was 50 minutes late.  I got checked in and had a half hour before the next thing.  Not evening prayer or supper with the sisters, but getting back on the bus to meet friends a little ways down Yonge St.  I really really overscheduled this travel day but one of my friends was leaving town the next day, this was it if we were to see each other.   At this point I was feeling really badly because I didn’t want the sisters to think that I was treating their convent like a hotel.  But I was flitting in late and rushing out again to go to a bar.   They didn’t know that but I did. 

The time with my friends was superb.  These women and I travelled many miles together in 1991 as our Up With People cast made its way to many places in North America and Europe.  Our organization’s goal was to improve understanding between cultures.  Kindv’e intense stuff and it meant our cast became close.  On Friday night I got to see 2 of my closest friends from the cast.  It was fantastic to see each other.   It was not one of those quick 1.5 hour get to-gethers.  It took the whole evening to get ourselves caught up.  

So it was that at 10:45pm I was spilling out of an Uber in front of the convent and finding myself in a pickle.   The outside door was locked.  It was my first night at the convent, I thought I knew all I needed to know about security because I had the keycode.  As I was to discover that code reader was behind a locked door.  I was not without options.   I sent a text to the number I had.  Waited.  No answer.  I sat on the bench outside and pondered….”could I sleep the whole night on this bench?”  After rising at 2:45am in Regina to catch my flight I was a bit tired and I almost thought I could actually sleep there. But would I be safe? There was a door bell.  Should I ring it?  I was going to disturb someone.   For my safety I had to do it.  I rang it.  A couple minutes passed.  Then two things happened at the same time.  I got a text back.  “Your passcode will get you in at the guest door entry”  (as opposed to this main entry I was standing at) and two women came to the door I was standing at.  One in a nursing uniform and the other in a housecoat.   I can’t begin to describe how mortified I was by the thought that not only had I got this rather older nun from her bed but that I was putting them in this situation of having to come to a stranger at a door in the dark.  

Can we break for a cut scene?  A little diversion……  Last week when I was preparing to get away Russell and I were both fairly intrigued by the thought that I was coming to a convent.   I handled my intrigue by pondering the books I should pack.  Russell handled his with humor, singing to me a phrase from the musical The Sound of Music, “how do you solve a problem like Kaklika?” (One of my nicknames as a kid, it’s Hawaiian for Kathy, it is also the right number of syllables to match the original song “How do you solve a problem like Maria.”)

Darn that man, that is exactly what unfolded.  Like a scene out of the Sound of Music Kathy/Maria stands flustered at the door, a doorbell gets rung, an elderly nun comes from a distance and encounters this woman who can’t contain her own heart or get her act together.  That is exactly how I felt in that moment.  It was probably 20 seconds or less of sorting out what was going on and then Sister Beryl, I guess sensing that everything was on the up and up, offered to show me to my room on the 2nd floor. I only let her walk me to the stairs, (she was using a cane),  I could figure the rest out, but in those moments I was overcome with relief about the grace I was receiving. 

As I pondered this grace I was very struck by my assumption that I deserved to be judged or assessed first, versus simply received. Where did that come from? Nuns have a mixed reputation, so maybe that. However, given the sister’s identity as followers of Jesus, which implies lives shaped by love and grace, with hospitality as part of their mission, my expectation that I would be judged for my lack of perfection, was really quite an insult to those nuns.

The next morning at breakfast, as I gathered with the sisters in the “refectory”, drinking some of the best coffee I had ever had, and eating a piece of toast from bread so good that God might have made it, I realized that I had done to Sister Beryl what I was so offended about being done to me earlier in the spring.  I assumed that she came to me with assessment on the mind.  Of course she did, from a safety point of view, but after I passed that test, I was pretty certain she might be pondering that I was inconsiderate and if not that, well, surely she would need to assess me in some way.  As it was we mostly quietly walked together down the long hallway.  Mostly quietly.  There were the moments where I apologized, and then apologized again, feeling so inept.  Here is what I noted in my journal about Sister Beryl the next morning, she had gentle eyes and it felt like an understanding, companion instinct.  Her words were few but somehow they assured me it was not the end of the world.  Thinking about this at breakfast, at chapel, in my journal and again now as I write I can’t help but have tears in my eyes.  It just means so much.  It means so much to bring all that we bring and be received with grace.  To bring all that we bring….. for me, that day, it was layers and layers of needing favors arising from being inexperienced, naive, forgetful, and optimistic. 

It go’s further. I think I treat God like this too. At least part of the time. Expecting that if God were to come to the door and see me there, ill prepared for the moment I would hear, “what the hell Kathy?!? Did you not read the manual and see about the guest door? Did you really need to push this day to the absolute limit and in the process ask many people to bend and flex for you? How many times are you going to need to be bailed out?”

But that’s not the God who said, “you who are without sin can throw the first stone.” In other words, no-one is perfect.

That’s not the God who told his followers to respond with generosity to hunger, loneliness, thirst and nakedness…in other words to see and actively care, no mention of assessment and judging.

If there was a competition regarding what is the most transformative force in the world I think grace maybe runs neck and neck with love. Then again, maybe I am splitting hairs, maybe love is grace and grace is love. I can’t quite tease it out but I know that I need grace and when I receive it it’s everything. It allows me to love myself. It makes it possible to extend understanding and love to others.

I think my late night encounter with Sister Beryl and the learnings in it for me will be something I revisit may times as life unfolds. To call forth another song title from Maria’s repertoire…..that memory will be one of “My Favorite Things.”

Day 12 Calving Season 2022 – 16 hours into this blizzard

Its Wednesday morning, we are about sixteen hours into the active weather that we are reckoning with and we got through our first night. Yesterday was a good day, very unusual and heartwarming. The pictures I have here are meant to tell the tale of life to this point.

Just a goofy one to start off. I guess Russ is saving his warm boots for when things get really bad, but he pulled up to me on his horse when I saw him late in the afternoon yesterday and said, “do you think we should start a ‘go fund me’ so I can get new boots? I thought “maybe no!” to that question.
Our day started off very normally in some ways, getting to the chores of the day, Russ suggested we eat brunch in town while there to get vet supplies for the days ahead. We lingered long at the restaurant when friends came in for their lunch and joined us. It was nice to live some very normal moments. A box waiting for me at the post office included the children’s book Russ is holding. I had just read it to him while we drove home, we both loved it, it was funny and creative. Plan to hear it read to you at a fall cow chase supper if you are part of the crew.
While at the restaurant we sat with a notebook and brainstormed every item we could need at the cottage. When our friends joined us they added a couple items to the list. It was pretty comprehensive. My main worry was water, because I needed containers for the house and cottage. Once home I stumbled on this container that I have never used on the trail and was tempted to give away. I forgot I had it. I was so proud of myself for the wash station I could create. This is wash water on tap, with face cloths and hand towels on the rungs and wash pails under neath the stool. The stool came from my home in Saskatoon, I think of it as my Dad’s stool, he spent much time perched on it chatting with Mom in the kitchen in later years. I use it for music gigs. It comforts me to have this used for another great purpose.
Firewood in place in the cowboy cottage.
The cottage as I left it, prepped for use. What would they call this on MASH?
This was taken at 5:30 yesterday. As I came out of the cottage Russ and Morgan were arriving to round up the herd and tuck them into the calving yard, a corner of the calving pasture that has shelter on three sides and is right beside the cowboy cottage.
Morgan getting his tack in place and while the horse was antsy, Morgan was calm as a cucumber. He is not upset about his days in grade 9 being cut short by the school closure announced earlier this day.
After supper Morgan and I whipped back to the cottage because I had forgotten to take Russell’s changes of clothes with me earlier. The snow had started two hours earlier but had not yet accumulated to much at this point.
I awoke at 7:05 today when Russ phoned. He had checked the heifers in the shed here and no calves had been born overnight. He told me he had a chat with them, they are to hold on til next Wednesday when it is finally seasonally warm. Lets see if they listen. Heifers are new Mom’s, they can have trouble with birthing as its their first time. We have 57, three have calved, we have many to go. Russ was with the rest of the herd and found this calf, it had been licked off, maybe by its Mom but then abandoned and it was cold and wet. So as I sit here and write, I have done a few minutes sitting with my hands over its tail and ears hoping to
Morg came in this morning to get his chaps.
The view here an hour and a half ago. The drifts in front of the cars have accumulated quite a bit since then. The wind is clearing the roads so far so we have been able to travel back and forth to the pasture so far today.

Russ called a few minutes ago. He has two more calves to bring me so I am signing off. However, the heartwarming part of yesterday was all the messages of concern, promises of prayer and offers of help we received. It helped us feel so much less isolated. From Victoria to Halifax and Saskatoon to Florida, we have faces and loving hearts to consider as we take each step through these days. God bless us all.

You must be…..

My Dad was a memorable character in Saskatoon.  He was 6’6″, a school teacher and administrator, he had a beautiful bass singing voice and a heart for underdogs.  He acted in summer musicals.  He served on alot of boards and committees.  He was well known.  I was proud to be his daughter but as a young adult making my way in life I reckoned with living within the shadow of his identity.  

A backstage photo from his appearance as “Bill Sykes” in the musical “Oliver.”
I am not sure which school this was, I would guess Estey School, but Dad is in the centre, the principal.
Dad had a big presence and an ease in public speaking.
Dad was very naturally affectionate which increased his impact even more.

I was reminded of living within his shadow after I posted a video on Facebook last weekend. It was of my daughter Jillian singing “O Canada” for the opening of two big hockey games.  She did a really nice job and I was proud of her. 

Jill giving it her all, with that microphone her clear voice brought warmth and solemn dignity to us all.
It was a provincial play-off game, the flags in combination with the anthem created a grounding moment.

The responses to the posted video were overwhelming to her and I.  She received plentiful and beautiful affirmation.  The most common refrain was “you sound so much like your Mom!”

The feedback is a wonderful thing and especially for a young woman on the verge of launching into the world.  She is blessed by such supportive people.  However, I found myself saying to her, “oh I’m sorry Jill.”

That’s a curious reply isn’t it?  Weird.  Out of place. 

Here is the background.  At exactly this time of year in 1994 the winter Olympics were happening.  Some of you will remember the figure skater named Nancy Kerrigan.  Events of those Olympics have given her name long lasting recognition in addition to the fact that she represented the U.S. as one of their top skaters. 

Back to Saskatoon…..

In winter 1994 I was 25 years old and in my first year at Seminary.  I was shopping at the Safeway (in Cumberland Square….if you want to picture this vividly and you are a Saskatonian).  I was wearing a full length navy blue wool coat, quite a sleek look, and my hair was pulled back, also quite a sleek look.  I was shopping for bananas when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman moving towards me and settling in right beside me.  She had moved with purpose.   I was curious but didn’t need to be for long, she began to speak, “you must be….”  In my head I finished the sentence for her “You must be….Wayne Kyle’s daughter.”   But that is not what she said, instead I heard, “you must be Nancy Kerrigan’s sister!”  I assured her I was not, but I am sure I remember her saying “really!?!” 

That was one of the weird, random and hilarious moments of my life.  I wonder if that lady had considered the likelihood of a U.S. figure skater’s family member hanging out in Saskatoon during the Olympics or whether she had just turned off her tv and whipped in for some groceries with Nancy Kerrigan’s face fresh in her mind.

Nancy Kerrigan. An image I found in a google search.
A picture of me right around the same time.

Whether we even look much alike or not I took from that moment a realization.  The way I finished that ladies sentence for her allowed me to see clearly that I was used to being known for who I was related to not for who I was, and I was 25 years old.

That is why I said sorry to Jill. I know what work it is to carve out your own identity, and moreso when your parents are well known. Between Russell’s history here and generous personality and my ministry and music, in this small area we have become known. I think as humans we delight in finding the connections between people, the similarities in look, mannerism or talent that move through the generations. Is it reassurance that things we value live on? It has seemed delightful for people to make the connection between my voice and Jill’s, so Jill will work out her own unique presence with this as a part of the background. It’s something to reckon with. I think maybe thats why my unthinking response was, “I’m sorry.”

How do any of us establish an identity that arises from our own unique selves and experiences?  It strikes me that it starts to emerge and grow as we throw ourselves into the life that we seek and the opportunities we are able to embrace.    Decision by decision, effort by effort, success by success (hopefully) we become known for that unique presence we bring to the world. 

Perhaps that whole process has been turned on its head by social media, giving people a chance to be recognized far and wide for the public persona we choose to put forward.  But do our ventures with social media allow us to feel truly seen and known? 

Back to the Carnduff rink….

Jill was asked to sing again this past Sunday, she said yes, so for the 3rd time in 8 days she put herself out there (for a game that our Red Devils went on to win 10-1, taking the series!)  Perhaps there is a shortage of willing singers that has created this set of openings for Jill.  However her willingness and strong voice are giving her opportunity, the building blocks of her own identity.  It won’t be easy separating herself around here from the connection of being “Russell and Kathy’s daughter.”   But on the other hand it honestly feels like only a matter of time before we are known somewhere else in the world as “Jill’s parents”.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe we are strongest when our identity is a mixture of what we can do and who we belong to, and it seems amazing when those strands of belonging come from our past and extend into the future as we become a part of new generations.

Today in the background I am always Wayne and Georgie’s daughter. However, as I stand at the fruit counter at the Co-op, making my choices, it is very likely my status as Russell Bayliss’s wife that will cause someone to draw close to me out of the blue, but instead of telling me I look like an Oympian I will hear, “how are those cows doing?” I will sit in an audience soon, perhaps with tears in my eyes, absorbed with being “Gina Bayliss’s Mom”, she is thriving at theater school. I will fluff a skirt and scramble to oversee a graduation celebratory meal as my beautiful anthem singer graduates in a few months. I am watching in awe as I see in my son, Morgan Kyle Rain Bayliss, the genetic threads of two family trees come together and I know my miraculous body has allowed this opportunity. I live all this within the shelter and the challenge of knowing life as a follower of Jesus Christ. That opportunity ties all the pieces together for me, I have one job, to love and be loved.


Life is full and rich and hard. I suspect that many can relate and many others might think, “Kathy you have no idea what hard is,”…..they would be right.

I am having trouble getting much written this week. However, I have a picture I just don’t want to lose in the shuffle.

Jill took this picture at the airport on Saturday night.

Those arms had been poised in position for a while.

These are part of a series, Jill started snapping just before Gina appeared at the top of the stairs. I love Jill’s instinct to capture an unfolding story. To me, this moment is poetic and deeply truthful.

It is the fruit of deep love and missing. It is Russell’s deep love for his girl.

I think one of the things I like about these pictures is that there are no identifying faces. It could be anyone.

That catches me. It could literally be anyone. Because every human on earth is deserving of this love, this enthusiasm, this welcome.

These images put me in mind of the enthusiasm of the father in the prodigal son story in the Bible. That father went against the culture of his day because of his love for his son. He was a civilized rich man, it was abnormal for him to run, but he saw his son in the distance and he seemed unable to hold himself back. He ran to greet and welcome him.

The hymn “O Holy Night” has a line, “til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.” I have been thinking about that so much. I am thankful. I am thankful that the arrival of the Christ child is about worth, about welcome, about arms closed to no one. That sits well within me. Except it’s hard hard hard to follow in his way.

Gina is blessed to be welcomed home with sincere and loving exuberance. I told her I want to make a poster for her using this picture. Life throws curveballs, I want her to never forget that she has a place of love and welcome. But the truth is, I believe, we all do. Our truth is our deep worth, our belonging. The fact that we are beloved. Noise and pain try to drown that out but ultimately they can’t.

Til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. ❤ Merry Christmas ❤

Topics for tomorrow’s Coffee Date

Our family was in Regina today, minus Gina of course. She is in heavy duty rehearsals for a show in Victoria. We were there because Morgan so badly wanted to attend Agribition. It was the only day we could make work. For those readers outside of Saskatchewan, Agribition is an annual event where all aspects of prairie agriculture are on display, rodeos and stock competitions occur and merchants get to show their products.

Ford Canada was there and that meant that Morgan got to sit inside his most favorite vehicle for a while, a Ford Bronco.

We have attended Agribition a few times over the last number of years. When Morgan started talking about going this year it just wasn’t something I wanted to do. After some deliberating and negotiating we made a plan, then when Morgan’s volleyball team advanced to provincials we revised the plan. It was on short notice that we all headed into Regina. As it turned out I would actually be spared Agribition this year because Jill needed to finalize her shopping for her grad dress. I regret that I am not wired for things like Agribition, it would make me a better ranch wife, but being honest, I just don’t like it. With diverse needs being met everyone had some interesting moments.

First off, Jill had a gift shopping spree coming to her and that was fun. We were at a store that inspired me to try on a few things. One item was a dress that when I held it up and asked Jill for her opinion she said, “it looks like Laura Ingall’s dress for going into the jungle.” That was a zippy and fun reply but fairly non committal. I figured I better try it on. Partly that was because a friend of mine recently told me that my grade 8 grad dress looked like it was from LIttle House on the Prairie. I wondered how far I could push this Laura Ingalls look in my life.

Ready for my grade 8 graduation ceremony. I am standing between my Mom and Dad.

I sent Russell a picture from the fitting room. Lets just say he was not in favor. At this point I can’t help but think something that makes me sound like my Nanny. She used to work at the Bay in Saskatoon, when she retired and still shopped there she always noticed something that could have been done better, the racks being too close together was her most frequent concern. Anyways, I looked at this dress and thought, “in my day this dress would never be put out for sale with all these wrinkles, don’t they have a steamer?” It might have looked a little more appealing minus the wrinkles. Anyways, Russell was relieved to hear I had not bought it.

At the next store we went to we had exceptionally friendly and eager help but it came in an unexpected way. I had a salesgirl ask us if we were in town for Agribition. That started a fun few minutes of conversation which included her swearing, alot, like in those few minutes the f word was used repeatedly, the sh word used and then right at the end she had a sentence that had both these words and the g d swear. My brain was processing the content of what she was saying, talking about agribition and black Friday in the same week, but it was also spinning as I asked myself, “did she really say that?”, “what if I was someone who was offended by this, how would this unfold?”, “why am I not offended by this?”, “how can she use such usually harsh words with so much smiling, they sound kinda nice”…… It was one of those moments that made me happy, being in the city, encountering people that are unique and kind, finding the unexpectedness of it funny.

Russ left Morgan at Agribition and joined Jill and I for the grad dress shopping. It was great. We had a very skilled and kind helper at NWL, Jill was having so much fun and had great options. She made a decision. We got it ordered. People who do their job so well and bring such a lovely human dynamic into it really make a difference in the world.

Jill and her sales woman.
This felt special. It was a grad dress meeting to discuss the top two or three options and give Jill time to make a decision. We don’t often get time alone away from the ranch with one of our kids. Jill is a delight. This cafe across from the dress store is expensive but so nice to experience.

Russ and Morgan had themselves a good day. Morgan bought himself a new rope and got to hang out with one of his friends who was showing cattle. They talked with lots of different people. Russell reported that he heard a few people whining about the masks, he commented that its alot better than last years Agribition (it was cancelled) and that ended the whining. On the way home Russ said to me, “I enjoyed agribition, but I missed you, there was stuff I would like to have shown you and talked about, like the manure spreader of my dreams, you should have seen it.” So much romance in that statement. Actually there is. Its wonderful to be valued and wanted but its comical (at least to me) when romance and manure merge in the same phrase.

Our trip home is not quite complete, we should pull in the yard in about 10 minutes, the trip home has been hard, sortv’e. Jill is, by necessity, part of an online group where people feel incredibly free to say things that are very hate filled. She has processed some of that with us. It is troubling. It leads me to feel more convinced than ever that we have to keep putting love and light and love and light and love and light into the world. I am thankful for my faith. In it there is instruction, reminder, inspiration and fuel to keep tackling the worlds troubles with love and a way to confess and start again when we don’t rise to the challenge.

Rare Opportunity

I wrote this first part of this blog almost six days ago, on Tuesday morning.

I am wading through my first morning home after many days away, reckoning with how weird I feel, both physically and emotionally.  Last Wednesday I drove the 550km that took me to Saskatoon where I got welcomed by my sister Linda and her husband Stu and we hunkered in for some days.  Linda has a gift for hospitality and I was treated like a queen. My sister Jan flew in from Vancouver and stayed with my sister Margie and her family.  Together the four of us, with help from my cousin Jodi tackled boxes and boxes of my Mom’s photo albums and some boxes of miscellaneous photos.    I feel like what we did in wading through a lifetime of memories in their fullness is pretty rare, not something people get to do more than once in their lifetime if at all.  From this rare point of view I want to report back on some of it.

The two things that I can’t stop thinking about are humor and love.   Humor because it bubbled up often and allowed us to be real about what we were dealing with and yet not wallow in self pity or sadness.  That meant for example that when Ella Fitzgerald came up on the playlist crooning about heaven, Janet, in split second creative humor, neatly revised the lyrics to address our situation.   It meant my tears about reviewing pictures of our last happy party when my Dad was still a little bit well turned to laughter, as Linda looked over my shoulder and said, “and we weren’t even that happy.”   It was true, dementia was taking its toll on all of us.  There was something about the vantage point we had, more than 20 years later, that had us all laughing at her comment and pretty hard.   We reviewed albums and albums from the 1980s which made it so inevitable that one of us would say something about hair, it was Margie, who with her very deep and sincere faith intact said “Why did no-one tell me that my hair was so god-awful?”  It all just struck us so funny.   Most of the things we laughed at are not typical knee-slappers, they might not strike you as funny, but it’s the mystery of humor, how it illumines our lives and helps us cope.

I got that far with writing then stopped. Now I am back at it, Sunday night. I have just spent much of the last hour looking at some of the pictures gleaned from our work bee. A word about process seems appropriate here. We set up in Linda’s living room, it was an invasion of sorts. Four big tables set up, the dining room table turned into a laptop and scanner station, for four days Linda’s space was pretty much turned upside down. Margie, Linda and I peeled pictures out of albums and sorted the content of the boxes, Janet received our sorted piles and using a high speed scanner we had purchased she did the painstaking work of scanning and catalogueing these pictures. Thru the wonders of modern tech we now all have access to all the pictures we handled. Can you even guess the number that Jan scanned? It was 6,700 on the nose (thats a prairie expression which means “exactly.”) Our discard pile was almost as big as our keep pile, so we looked at alot of pictures over the days.

Sitting here tonight I wonder about what makes humor possible. Definitely our stage in our healing work was part of what made us light hearted enough to laugh more than we cried. Perhaps it was the way that we had to keep a loose grip on reality because it was always changing. One minute being drawn back to 1981 and then 1939 and then 2002, all found in a combined box of pictures. Do you have one or some of these? I didn’t know my Mom had so many. I saw pictures I never saw before. Reality is a little more loose under those conditions and that loose-ness maybe encouraged humor. Maybe too it was about something kind’ve major. A kind’ve major truth, a truth that bubbled to the surface for me as we were preparing to start and discussing process. There was some anxiety rising to the surface…..what if we mishandle this and lose out on something special? We agreed we would look through the discard piles before they were garbaged in order to assure each other that we had all we wanted. It hit me then, this kind’ve major truth, I said, “girls, we have survived being orphans for a whole year now, we have lived without these photos and without our Mom and Dad for a whole year and we made it. What this represents now is the icing on the cake. We know we can make it, so everything here is bonus.” Its true. With that as our underlying truth it seemed like it was easy to live with a sense of gratitude for every one of the thousand moments our hearts smiled to see a familiar face, place, and item. With those smiles on our hearts the humor was more able to flow. In the end we never reassessed our throw aways we just let them all go.

I mentioned at the start that love and humor were on my mind. Perhaps the biggest reason that humor could flow is that each of us came to our time knowing we were loved and we are loved. Our parents loved us well, that is our most profound blessing in life. We all have taken into our hearts the faith our parents started in us, that tells us that we are beloved children of God. We all have established our own families, we have spouses, children and pets that welcome us home. That is major.

I have a few pictures to share with you. I am not going to make them orderly or chronological. It will give you a glimpse of how our minds were spinning thru these days together.

This is my Grandma Kyle. Since I wanted to write about humor I looked for pictures reflecting joy or laughter. This one was a real find. (My brother Bob in the background.)
Here is Gina and I in the summer of 2002
I saw this picture before it was scanned and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked for it in the files and was glad to find it. Jan catalogued well. That is Kathy Kyle feeling safe and loved in her Dad’s lap.
This is captioned on the back as the first hour my twin sisters were home from the hospital. I turned two the next day. Look where I got to sit. On Mom’s lap. She always got it, what people needed to feel seen.
I have seen this picture many times over the years but not with a growing teen boy in my house before. Tonight I looked at it and said, holy smokes, my son looks like my brother. I had never seen it before. Bob is 23 in this picture, a university graduate.
You probably will not understand the significance of this picture unless you read a previous facebook or blog post, not sure which but here is “Gina in Buster’s highchair.”
Linda at her work station.
Me working on my piles. They started to feel overwhelming after a while.
I have a picture of my Dad holding me on this day but had never seen this one before. My Grandpa Tubb was a photographer, he came over to take pictures of me the day I came home from the hospital. There were several beauties that were taken this day. It would be his last official shoot.
Great hospitality was extended to us working women by my brother in law Stuart. We really appreciated it.
Jan was what I would call “courageous”. The mental power she used to accomplish her task might have finished me off. She said she had it good because she only processed the keeper pictures. I’m not convinced. It looked hard to me.
Margie at her work station, evidence of her mischievous and playful self is in this picture. She left some lingering humor for Linda to find after we all left.


One of my favorite children’s books called “Something from Nothing” uses the repeating phrase “its time to throw it out.”  I am reminded of that as I consider the green fruit on my counter.  However I’m having such a hard time throwing it out.  Through that still good looking watermelon I am being forced to confess to myself that I have a problem and its called superstition.  I am not okay with this, but its real. 

The watermelon came to our home the long weekend in August when my friend Deb visited from Saskatoon.  Laden with treats and supplies she blew in with the summer wind, that watermelon in her hands.  Morgan and I are the only people at our place that really like watermelon, so, I was waiting for the right time to cut it up, until there were a few more watermelon lovers around.  The dumb thing is I didn’t put it in the fridge.  Well, the right time to cut it never came and there it sat.  I didn’t have the resolve to throw it out when 10 days had gone by and its fresh time had passed.  And it sat.  I noticed it was a great place to kill flies, it attracted some and was a firm backdrop for the swatter to do its work.  It was earning its keep.  By the end of August I was ready to say that overall our crew was doing better. We had been able to figure out our feed crisis, there had been some rain, we had some fun.  I couldn’t help but think that it seemed that ever since that watermelon arrived in our life everything felt better.  So I looked at that watermelon and thought, “can I throw it out?”  And my immediate reaction was “no, not going to do that.”  With a few things coming up that I am nervous about I really and truly am having a hard time throwing out that watermelon. That is the dumbest thing I ever heard.  But its not the only thing I am superstitious about.  I have had pedicures on my feet about four times in the last 15 years.  The first and fourth times were followed by events that were extremely hard.  So…………although I have a gift certificate to get a pedicure, I am waiting until I have a window where I can risk whatever may follow.   

These thoughts and actions, or lack of actions, do not line up with what is at my core.  I believe in God.  I believe that no matter what life throws at me, God is with me.  I don’t believe that there is a force for chaos that can be held at bay by the presence of a watermelon or turning down pretty toe nails.  I think that what all this reveals is that I am feeling pretty vulnerable.   I am so incredibly thankful for the events that go right, where hope is allowed to flicker and shine.  I don’t want those moments where things are right and where hope is brewing to come to an end, so, I am turning to the concrete things that are in my power to hold the ship steady.  I mistakenly think that is the presence of a large green mass on my counter, (that is likely rotting on the inside.)   That leads to a good concrete question, what is within my power for holding the ship steady?  For keeping good momentum going?   

My life experience tells me that not much can control the cirumstances so that trouble never comes, but somehow the negative impact of troubling times is reduced by a couple things and these I should stay focused on. One is gratitude and the other is love. There is a part of the Bible that I have found both inspiring and challenging, it advises, “give thanks in all circumstances.” The older I get the more I agree with that. The other thing in the Bible is “love your neighbor”. If I keep showing up and loving as best as I can I will likely have much more influence on my life experiences than I will by making that watermelon on my counter a priority decor item.

Four more sentences that go another level deeper with all this. When Russ and I talked about this post he challenged me, “How important is it to be freed from trouble?” His point, that alot of good things come from hard things and hard times. We appreciate the good times better because of the hard times. I think he is absolutely right, but, still a bit shell shocked from the challenges of the last months and years I will not be looking for any trouble anytime soon. However somehow I have to muster the wisdom and maturity to throw out my watermelon. Maybe tomorrow. Until then I commit to showing up, loving my neighbor and saying thank-you.

My Life

Tonight Russell and I went out on a date, as the rain made the hayfield too wet to work. Yes, rain, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to say that again. At different times as we rolled towards Alameda to meet friends for a double date the song “In My Life” was in my head, one line in particular, it goes like this, “though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them, but in my life, I’ll love you more.” It was funny to arrive at the restaurant and find our friends there and seated at the next table was my singing partner Erin. It was Erin who introduced me to the song and we now sing it as part of our set list. Living in a small area really has its perks, its very fun to accidentally run into people who are important to you. We really enjoyed our meal and our visit, another episode of life feeling more normal again and getting strength from friends. As we pulled into the driveway when we got home, that same line was in my head again, I found myself analyzing what I was really singing and then turned to Russell as I was heading up the walk and said to him, “do you know what I’m singing?” “I am singing that as much as I am missing my Mom and Dad, and I am missing them both alot lately, as much as I love them and always will, I, (and at this point I hit him on the shoulder with the charging cord I was carrying), I love YOU more.” That realization hit me hard. Russell responded very quickly. He said, “well you should.” He followed that up by saying “you have committed your whole life to me, if you don’t love me more you should leave me and find something better.” It was not a confrontative moment at all, it was like a discovery moment, me discovering that as much as my missing is normal, I have something as full and nourishing right beside me, my choice and my life option. This was a reminder maybe, to live in the present. Thats it. Thats what happened.

A 30 second clip of the song in my head.
A picture of my parents I keep on my desk. Dad was 2 years past his dementia diagnosis at this time.
A Liz Griffin picture, Russ and I a year ago this week, when we renewed our vows.