Monday, April 20, 2015

Not Every Day Can Be Perfect

We had a beautiful weekend, basking in family and friends into wee hours - laughing enough to earn new wrinkles, and bodies hurting with cheated sleep and heavy eyes.  BUT too many late nights is a sure way to empty a child of their sweetness.  Even in silence they are growly today - painting their faces in all manner of 'Back off, momma!'

Too many late nights is a sure way to empty a child of their sweetness

They sit at the table while I reheat leftovers for dinner, one trying to tell the other of some wonderful new level they've reached in their ever important gaming world.  "Just be quiet, Zander! I don't care!" Liam spits across the table.

"You're being an idiot!" Zander spits right back.

"Hey!" I call out, turning from stirring the gravy, dripping it on the floor and my sock.  They freeze and glare at me.  "What does that make you?" I ask Zander.

His jaw works and anger darts from his eyes in frantic beams of chaos.  I hold his gaze as if I've shackled his eyes to mine.  Slowly he softens.  It's like watching a flower turn to the sun.  "It makes me a bully," he says quietly.

"And Liam," I say.  "What does that make you, talking to your brother like that?"

"Mean," he says.

"Right.  Mean."

I serve them their plates and we hold hands like we like each other.  Noa prays and we eat quietly.  "We're all tired," I finally say.  "It's early to bed tonight."

No one argues.  They know.  I can see it in the shadows that hang beneath their eyes.

Not every day can be perfect.  

But every day can be redeemed.

"I love you," I say to each of them as I tuck them in - even that big thirteen year old who doesn't think he needs me anymore.

"Love you too," they each say back and I'm sure they mostly mean it.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Make It Monday ~ My 1 Step Songwriting Process

When I decided I wanted to learn guitar my mother arranged for me to borrow one that sat in our pastor's basement collecting dust.  I knew exactly zero things about playing.  I sat on my bedroom floor with that poor old beaten beast laying flat across my lap like an auto harp, tapping the strings and calling my sisters in to tell them how I'd invented a new {and better} way to play.  I had no idea how to form chords or what a strum pattern was.  It must have been a month before I even figured out what I was trying to play was actually a left-handed guitar.  No wonder what I was attempting to mimic from the 'Teach Yourself Guitar' book given to me by my best friend's mother sounded positively horrible.

I received a right-handed Yamaha acoustic for my sixteenth birthday.  I thought it was the most excellently extravagant gift I'd ever been given and, with that paperback teach yourself instruction book always by my side, I dove in and learned enough to start writing my own songs.

Everyone handles their season of teenage angst differently.  I navigated those waters by writing poetry and music.

I did not write good music.  It was rare for anything to have more than three chords.  My lyrics were heavy with my first heart break and the only people who heard my music were the kids that would sit on the disgusting carpet in the church basement after youth group on Friday nights.

The chorus of my very first song went like this:

       I don't want to hear your problems
       I don't want to watch you cry
       I don't want get my shoulder wet
       You've got to let my flower die



That was a two chord wonder.  {So is Tom Petty's Free Fallin' but it would be unfair to compare.}  It had something like seven stab-a-needle-in-your-eye verses; but, because I was the only guitar-playing-singer-songwriter in my circle of friends they all told me how amazing it was. {Liars!} And, because I loved the attention {but played humble} I kept on writing them and bringing them to the church basement and recording them onto cassette tapes with a two track system that made me sound like I was being murdered in space.

Like any hobby or skill, improvement comes over time and though I'm still not a great guitar player - never adventuring beyond a chord & strum method - I have improved in production value, in my melody variances and my lyrics.

I have found it is never something I can force.  I write music when I feel it bubbling up inside me.  Any time I've said, "I think I'll write a song today," it doesn't happen.  It has to fall on me and I have to grab on and go for the ride or it will leave me.

The process is different for everyone.  I've listened to interviews with prolific songwriters who talk about the days...weeks...even years they spend making their song perfect.  I can't relate to this, though it fascinates me to no end.  I suppose when it is your livelihood, perfectionism is important.  Me?  I'm really just doing it for myself {much like my approach to this blog which goes against all the rules of successful blogging} so it's not about perfect, it's about saying what I want to say, having fun doing it, and feeling creative and alive.

I can't remember an instance where it took me more than a couple of hours to write a song from start to finish.  I'm not saying that to brag - I mean, I wonder what I could turn out if I actually dedicated real time to such a hobby...?  But an hour or two gives me enough of an outlet to create something that makes me happy - whether I'm pouring out feelings, being silly, or capturing a memory.

Songwriting.  It's like therapy.  But way cheaper.

So, how do I do it?

Step 1: I do it.  I just do it.

Sorry.  That was rude.

I can't tell you because it doesn't make any sense.  I pick up my guitar, I set a piece of paper and a pen in front of me, I strum a chord and I start singing.  Once in a while I'll have an idea for an opening lyric.  Usually I'll know the theme or tone I'm going for.  I never know how I'm going to find a bridge that works so luckily it finds me.  With my latest song {see below} - and this was a first for me - I had the whole first verse when I sat down.  It came to me in the car on an early Sunday morning as I drove to church for the pre-service worship practice/sound check.  I sang it into my phone before going up on the stage to the piano because I was afraid I'd lose it among the Hallelujah's.  I'd never come at a song-writing session so prepared.  It was kind of awesome.

If you want to write music, all I can say is do it.  Throw yourself in.  Find inspiration everywhere.  Don't be afraid to sound stupid.  {Let my flower die? I mean, come on!!??!!} 

Your process doesn't matter.  What matters is that what you do brings you joy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

If I Was Writing a Horror Movie Script I Would Start With a GPS {tales from the road}

Wrong is a feeling.  It's a slow-building pulse that pushes out from your belly and down on your chest.  It's not exactly like fear.  With fear you can't find humour.  But with 'wrong' your glass is still half-full while you're teetering on the edge of half-empty in a fate-tempting dance that can still crack a joke.

It was our second day.  We woke to snow and bitter winds in Bradford, Pennsylvania and, after swallowing down the pitiful motel continental breakfast and making the children stand by our fancy orange door for a photo, we piled into the piled-high station wagon, plugged our first stop destination into the GPS, got THE WORST COFFEE IN THE WORLD from a drive-thru window that said they were Tim Horton's {but I would swear up and down to high heaven that what they passed me was no Tim Horton's coffee but rather the steeped earwax of an angry ogre} and we hit the road.

Our first goal was Kinzua Bridge.  I discovered it's existence while plotting our road trip route and thought it would be an interesting place to stop and stretch our legs.  

The bridge is an engineering masterpiece hidden deep within the Northwestern Pennsylvania forest.  Built in the 1880's, it once soared 301 feet high and 2,053 feet across, making it the highest and longest railroad bridge in the world at that time.  The designer, C.R. Grimm, predicted it would last 100 years - and it did.  For generations, freight trains and later, excursion trains, roared across the Kinzua Viaduct and, since 1963, it has been the centerpiece of the Kinzua Bridge State Park.

I wanted to see it.  Not so much because it was an amazing bridge but because in 2003 a tornado tore through the forest and 11 of the 20 towers that held up the bridge were lifted, twisted and thrown onto the valley floor.  Within 30 seconds, nature had brought this mighty feat of engineering to it's knees, the bones of it's tragedy left as they landed, spread across the valley in a powerful display of nature and her frightful whims.

"Turn right in 500 metres."

Good old GPS.

I'd printed out the Map Quest directions and they didn't have us going far off the beaten path.  The GPS however, had some different plans.

If a highway is 'the beaten path' then we were in a field.  The road was narrow with tall grasses on either side that I might have touched had I put my hand out the window.

"Continue on road in 1 kilometre."

Not that there was anything else we could do.  There was no place to turn around.  There was swamp on one side and shabby clapboard homes rising up out of the grasses on the other.  

~ Silent prayers that we don't meet an oncoming vehicle, werewolf, or axe murderer ~

It went on and on.

"Are you sure this is right?" Scott asked as we passed a mailbox that looked like it had met the business end of a shotgun more than once.

"You know," I said, "it'd make a great premise for a horror movie...if some nutcase could somehow manipulate a person's GPS and send them really far down an untraveled road, luring them into his kill zone* where no one could hear their screams**..."

Funny how narrow, lonely roads make you remember every scary movie you ever watched.

When the website said the bridge was 'hidden' it wasn't kidding but, after a long stretch of creepy, silent road we saw a sign peeking through and things finally opened up to bring us onto national park land.

And that wrong feeling went away as if it had never existed.

We had arrived.  We were fine. There were no killers lurking in the shadow of one of the biggest train bridges ever built.

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip

Kinzua Bridge is really not a winter destination.  There was not another soul to be seen when we parked the car by a port-a-potty with a wicked lean. The bitter wind buffeted us as we picked our way through a snow choked path, tripping over old footprints that had hardened into hazards.

We were not dressed for it.  When your final destination is sunny South Carolina you don't think to pack big coats and boots and hats and mittens for everyone.

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip
But we suffered through it because the bridge was awesome!

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip
Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania

It would be incredible to go back in the summer when the forest below and around the bridge is in full leaf or in the fall when everything would be on fire with colour.  If you ever find yourself in Northwestern Pennsylvania, put this stop on your list - it's worth it! Creepy serial killer roads and all!

*I might write this script someday.  Don't steal it.
** If you do steal it, name a character after me - not the pathetic victim with running mascara - let me be the strong survivor who heartrendingly discovers the maniac is her long lost baby brother after she knocks him out and ties him to a tree with her blouse***
*** Don't steal that either - it's obviously gold.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring? Is That You?

There's a whisper of something warm on the air.  The squeals of children playing in the field sound a little like summer though while they run their breath still shoots ahead of them as steam does from a train.

We are still falling from winter.  We celebrated the Resurrection by scraping our windshields in the early hours so we could get to church on time.  Nothing bursts from the garden yet - no hint of colour on this grey landscape - and our hearts are weary with dreams of spring but we keep on believing because if we stop aren't we just like that dirty pile of old snow outside the barn, clinging to the shadows instead of grasping for the sun?

I wasn't built for the cold.  None of us were, really.  We ache to peel off layers and dig our fingers into the soil and hang the laundry behind the house.  We pine for crab-apple blossoms and free-range chickens and a cat that naps for less than nineteen hours a day.

We long for Spring, yet she drags her heels with the stubbornness of a harrumphing mule and we think about crying if it wouldn't make us a fool.

The snow that fell yesterday was fat and prideful and as I watched it fall to the ground I wanted to scream.  I would have too - if it wasn't so pretty...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I've Heard of Blood Sausage Before {tales from the road}

Maple syrup is made by cooking the sap of a maple tree until it thickens.  {Speaking of which, look what was on my desk when I got to work today!}

Blood sausage is made by cooking blood until it thickens.

I'll wait a moment while you fight off your gag reflex...

The idea of it turns my stomach.  I know there is a thing about using every part of the animal and, in so doing, you honor it for it's sacrifice...and aren't we noble and kind little humans as we consume the blood of a lesser species!!??!! 

I am a vampire lover.  I'm planning an Anne Rice tour of New Orleans some time in the future.  I like my steak rare.  But don't ever take congealed blood and pour it into a skinny sleeve and serve it to me! Not ever! Not even with sauerkraut!

There are just some things that should never be put in your body.  And to you, my friends, heed this wise advice - never, ever, EVER stop for lunch at a gas station.

Does that look like an Applebee's to you?  Yes?  Then you're probably on a road trip!

I planned our trip really well.  Except for a few of our on-the-road' meals.  We were lucky most of the time - finding easy and reasonable stops - but luck has a way of running out.  

And ours did.

It was a long stretch of highway taking us from Maryland to Pennsylvania on our second last day of travel.  The drive way pretty.  The kids were occupied.  Our snack plan supplies had been reduced to the lame remains of pretzels and stale popcorn. 

Two o'clock rolled around.  Everyone was hungry.

And we needed gas.

How convenient.

Perhaps warning signals should have sounded in our heads when we walked through the door of the gas station shop to find the 'cook' seated at one of two tables with some old men playing scratch tickets, or when we realized the 'computer lab' in the far corner was a weird online gambling booth, or when our shoes were sticking to the cracked and broken floor tiles... But when kids are hungry they only allot you so much grace and we knew ours was close to running out.  And we didn't know how far away the nearest town with familiar food was.  We ordered the hotdogs.

The menu board said 'Hotdogs'. The 'cook' called them 'Hotdogs'.  The kids were like, 'Yes! Hotdogs!'

We're not so fancy that we can't enjoy a hotdog but one look at them and I didn't know what they should have been called.

It was unfair, how they didn't have them showcased in a heated case with a rolling bottom, grease bubbling beneath the glowing lamp, making you think of New York.  It was unfair that we couldn't see the 'cook' coax them from their alien space pods wrappers to get a sense of what we were in for {and to assure us she hadn't slipped out back to saw the fat fingers off the escaped prisoners they kept locked up in the shed}.  It was unfair that we handed over that hard-earned expensive American money before getting a peek at the merchandise...

I peeled back the foil wrapper and steam billowed out along with the aggressive smell of strange spices, old oil and no name ketchup.  The bun was soft and fresh.  The meat was not. 

This hotdog was red.  RED.  Like primary finger-paint red.  Like those awful erasers they gave us in elementary school that left behind chunks of themselves on a spelling test like the flesh of a molting zombie.  Red.  Deep, dark, gruesome red.  

Like blood sausage.

"Tastes fine to me," Zander told us, eating his in three bites - true teenager fashion - and grinning with a spot of ketchup on his chin.

It did not taste fine.  It tasted weird.  It tasted like REDRUM in The Shining.  It tasted like something you'd find in a college dorm stuck to the inside of a lampshade, three days after the party that broke all the toilets...

It was not food.

It couldn't have been.

And though we survived without illness or tragedy or the tortured cries of finger-farm prisoners echoing through our nightmares, I'm quite convinced that - almost two weeks later - it is still alive, crawling around in my belly, waiting for Lankester Merrin to come and exorcise it to the dark abyss.

Again I say - and please heed my advice - never, ever, EVER, EVER stop for lunch at a gas station!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pooping Under Lincoln {tales from the road}

He's got coolness down to an art but, poor thing, sometimes even cool has to take a back seat to bodily functions...

Pooping under Lincoln {tales from the road} SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

When you look at a tourist map of The National Mall in Washington DC it doesn't seem terribly overwhelming; in fact, it tempts you to say 'of course we can walk that and see all the sites in one day.'  Reality is that it's terribly far - especially if you're sharing that walk with little legs - and it's rather lacking in facilities {if you know what I mean...}

Liam was having some...let's call them 'stomach issues' we traversed the vast scenes of DC.  Within the museums there was little problem because rest rooms were readily available.  Beyond those beautiful, decorative doors though - not so much.

After stopping for a snack at the base of the incredible Washington Monument, we began the long hike to see Abraham Lincoln.  And it's far.

But the day was beautiful.  The sun was shining between the trees, joggers passed us in T-shirts, squirrels were scurrying and birds were tweeting and there was not a hint of snow anywhere.

We were halfway there when Liam declared his need.

Of course, there was nothing around.

"Can you hold it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.  "Maybe."

Pooping under Lincoln {tales from the road} SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Of all the sites we saw in the city that day, Lincoln was the most impressive.  It's such an iconic, powerful place - and I'm Canadian - I can't even imagine what it's like to stand there as a proud American.

Approaching it was rather surreal.  It's massive and gorgeous and intricate and annoyingly populated with tourists but so incredible to stand in such a place.  We stopped before reaching the stairs to pose for a picture.

But poor Liam couldn't wait.  He threw down his water bottle and took off  - first in a purposeful march and then at a full out run.

Pooping under Lincoln {tales from the road} SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

 It took us a few moments to understand what was happening and then, because we're cruel, we couldn't help but burst out laughing.

Pooping under Lincoln {tales from the road} SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Like a bee to a flower he instinctively raced to a dark door beneath the monument, somehow knowing he could find relief under Lincoln.

And relief he did find.  And just in time.  Thank goodness!

He reemerged, grinning sheepishly, pooped out from his frantic run {see what I did there?} and together we climbed the stone steps to meet the regal and impressive Mr. Lincoln.

Pooping under Lincoln {tales from the road} SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

More tales from the road will be coming soon...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

10 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE We Left On a Road Trip

10 things I wish I knew before leaving on a #roadtrip - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Wash the inside of the windshield.  It's a road trip.  You're going to want pictures of the road.  And pictures of the road through a streaky, dirty window just aren't the kind of memory you'll want to hold on to.  I can remember, a few days before we left, saying to myself, 'I really need to make sure I wash that,' and then promptly forgetting about it until I took my first on-the-road shot and thought, 'well, shoot!'

Walmart is more expensive in the US.  Maybe this isn't a fair statement - I don't know about every American Walmart but the one in Bradford, Pennsylvania certainly is.  All I wanted was some fruit and veggies for our snack plan containers but I just couldn't stomach the prices compared to home.  Luckily our complimentary hotel breakfast came with a lot of fruit each day and we happily helped ourselves!

Constantly losing radio stations.  Yes, I know, I'm quite behind the times on this one.  Everybody who's anybody has all their favourite music downloaded to their phone and they make a great playlist and every one is happy.  I have exactly ZERO songs on my phone.  I just haven't got around it to.  Shame on me!  So we were faced with the endless search for a good radio station - only to lose it within the hour. No thank you!  Next time I'll be better prepared.

Don't eat at McDonald's.  Obvious, right?  But the kids think they love it and the dollar menu is actually a dollar menu {once you're out of Canada}.  I had a salad - because ew - but everyone else had a burger and apparently meat just isn't the same...if it's meat at all...?  It's certainly not Canadian beef anyway.

Believing you'll have gorgeous weather doesn't mean you actually will - pack for everything.  For some reason, I thought 'hey, we're going south, we don't need big warm coats and mittens and boots.'  I didn't consider that it would snow on our first night in Pennsylvania and that we'd be walking snowy paths at the Kinzua Bridge or how chilly it would be while we gazed at Niagara Falls on the way home.

Southern hospitality is a real thing.  Canadians have this reputation of being super polite.  I would argue that American's are just as polite...perhaps even more???  I had this crazy idea that we'd cross the border and be faced with a week void of a please or a thank you or a door held open for us.  It's all a lie, people!  We were overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality we were met with along the way.  Of course, there were a few grumpy people scattered through but more than once we commented on how crazy nice everybody was!

Gas station food is not food.  I don't know what it is but it doesn't belong in your body.  THAT HOTDOG IS NOT A HOTDOG - DO NOT PUT IT ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR MOUTH!!!  Trust me.

Bring along containers for beach mementos.  We arrived at the ocean during low tide which meant there was really no end to the amount of sea shells we could collect.  Liam filled his pockets.  Noa filled her purse.  We dumped out a water bottle and filled it with sand so we could bring home our own little miniature beach.  Next time I'll take a bucket or a plastic tub or a jar - anything with a lid - anything that would mean clothes {and then suitcases} and purses don't get full of sand.

GPS is fallible.  Technology is beautiful.  GPS is brilliant.  Until you try to go home and it has you heading from Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls via Montreal.  Montreal!  If we'd trusted it, our second last day would have consisted of an eighteen hour drive instead of six.

Your daughter might look cute in that oversize truckers hat but her face will just be a shadow in every picture you take.  Back when we ran a recording studio, I had this 'I Heart Little Box Studio' hat made as a promotional product sample.  Somehow it came into the possession of my daughter and somehow it was her hat of choice when they were all told to bring one.  It's too big for her.  And she looks crazy adorable in it.  But seriously - every picture of her is cast with a dark shadow across her face!
Have you learned anything from a trip you've taken?  Spread the wealth - share it in the comments below!

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