The content you’ll find here is from my old blog that I inadvertently deleted. Fortunately I was able to paste in this information. Not the ideal solution but better than losing it completely!
A Guest Blogger
During the Holiday season, we get lots of notes from far-away friends and family. All are welcome and a few are truly special. On December 24th, I received such a greeting from Deanna , a treasured friend I met through a Life-writing workshop. Reading what she sent to me, you’ll not only be touched by her great writing but also by her caring spirit.
Please pass this post around to those you know… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone reads it and puts “Kyle” and Deanna in touch with each other?
Kyle and the Christmas Cactus
The “Christmas School Holidays” are upon us, once again, and my thoughts return to you each year at this time.
In 1991, I left the local school community, that I had loved and been a part of for eleven years, and drove an hour away to join a fledgling staff in a smaller lakeside community. The school was comprised of portables while we waited for the new school to be completed. Our Principal was a bright, warm-hearted, dedicated woman who had chosen a staff made up of vibrant, adventurous young teachers and a few experienced, near-retirement souls like myself. Her enthusiasm was tempered daily with the message that the students were always our priority and that their learning environment be a balance of educational and life skills.
You came into my life in the September of 1992, a wee boy going on five. You were in the middle of a blended family with older, protective siblings and younger ones who, as might be said, nudged you “out of the nest”, too soon.
There were the days you climbed the stairs into the Senior Kindergarten portable, needing a knee to sit on and a welcome hug before venturing into the day’s activities. Then, there were those many times when a surly little fellow stomped into class, unwilling to join the morning circle until you had spent some moments alone under the teacher’s desk or by the book shelf until you felt ready to tackle the new sound or song.
Fall disappeared and the Christmas break was fast approaching. Holiday songs and poems were learned, crafts and cards for parents were made and the Nativity play and concert,completed. On that last day of school before the holidays, you walked in with a plant that so represented you. It was a tiny Christmas Cactus, needing only love, time and attention to help it to grow and to bloom. I wrapped it carefully against the cold, took it home and told my four children that it was my ‘bestest present”.
You and your family moved out of the area later on in the next year and I, not knowing where you went, prayed that your new Teacher would see the real you and your potential.
I willed that Christmas Cactus to survive! I watched it, watered it and year after year, moving it from home to home, waited for a bloom that, somehow, would assure me that you, too, were coming along as I constantly wished for you.
Last year, Kyle, there was ONE beautiful flower on that wee plant that keeps doing its best and I was thrilled. Did that mean that you, also, were not only surviving but thriving?
Kyle, you are twenty-three now and I hold you in my heart and wish you well. This year, eighteen years later, is definitely the “bestest” year yet. There are THIRTEEN blooms on “our” Christmas Cactus!!
Wherever you are Kyle, Happy New Year!
Deanna, Oakville, ON
Once Again, Deanna is our guest…
My friend Deanna Lagroix is today’s Guest Blogger. As a teacher, she wrote many class plans and memos… over the years, she wrote letters to friends and she kept a journal. Now Deanna is writing stories about her well-lived life… she shares this one with us today:
It was a nightly ritual. Grandma was the last one to leave the kitchen at the end of the day. She would have cleaned off the table after making and serving supper for “the men” who’d come in from finishing the evening chores at the barn. Grandpa and my two unmarried uncles would carry in an armload of wood for the wood box, wash up and come to table. Conversation was limited and they would then retire to read or doze on the sofa while Grandma washed the dishes, reset the table and made the preparations for the early-morning breakfast. The small cistern attached to the large wood stove was topped up with water that was kept heated for all the household needs and, of necessity, it was usually Grandma’s task to feed wood into that stove.
In the early 1950’s I lived for a year on the farm with Grandma and Grandpa and attended the rural one-room school that my mother and her siblings had attended decades earlier. As the autumn evenings turned to the darker onset of winter, the lanterns were lit to guide the men to and from the barn and Grandma would check the oil and the wicks as she lit the indoor lamps on the table and the sideboard.
When the questions about my homework were answered and the discussions over the market prices for pork or beef concluded, we all prepared to retire. Grandma would blow out the extra lamps and after one last look around she’d take up “her” lamp, make her way upstairs to the bedroom and place it on her dresser. She would remove the hairpins holding the coiled bun on the back of her head, allowing her thinning grey hair to cascade down her back, then don her flannel nightie and stretch to relax that tired body.
Back at the dresser, she’d bless herself with the holy water collected at Church and say out loud, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul” and then would turn and blow out the lamp to end her day.
I am the fortunate grandchild who inherited the lamp and it honours my home on the mantle of the fireplace. Grandma, Annie MacLean MacCulloch, died in 1957 at the age of seventy-two. I have reached that age this year and her spirit and her love live with me still.
Neophytes on the Road to Yucatan
Today we have a guest blogger. Greer Lavery and his wife Janetta spend their winters in Yucatan. He has written a story about the drive from Ontario to Yucatan. I wonder how many readers of Writing From Merida have made this trip? And I have to ask if your experience included all the Laverys did?
In 2005, after four years of flying to Yucatán, and having seen many Canadian license plates in Progreso, Chicxulub and Mérida, we decided to drive from Ontario to Progreso hoping to see a good deal of rural Mexico along the way.
We arrived in McAllen, Texas late in the afternoon, planning to get an early start the next morning to cross into Reynosa, pick up our tourist visas and vehicle permit and begin our tour of Mexico. The first day’s destination was Tampico, about 400 km along an all-paved road with a few small towns and villages along the route. With cautious, sight-seeing driving we estimated we should be in Tampico by early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to find accommodation for the night; we had been strongly advised not to drive in Mexico after dark.
Upon arriving at the Immigration office shortly after 7am, we found that a caravan of eleven motor homes, each with multiple occupants, had arrived at the office before us, so we did not get on the road until late morning. We drove through areas of vegetable crops, orange groves, banana plantations, coconut groves and beautiful scenery. The long stretches of straight road shown on the map turned out to have MANY pueblos all along the route, each with a dozen or so topes, slowing travel to a crawl. The reduced speed did allow us to have a leisurely observance of life in the villages and towns so we did not mind the slow pace. We went along miles of road with no road signs, no signs of habitation and when we did come upon a road sign, the highway number did not match the number on the map. Villages were unnamed. The road was paved virtually all the way but it was also full of potholes, some large, some medium, and huge ruts in places where the asphalt had softened and heaved in the heat.The road was heavily populated with huge doble-semi-remolques. These trucks would creep through the villages and speed up on the straight stretches making passing risky on the treacherous roads. A pleasing revelation however, was that when passing was possible, the truckers would pull halfway onto the shoulder and give a signal to indicate that it was safe to pass. An enlightened and significant improvement over the attitude of truckers at home!!
It was dusk when we finally arrived at the outskirts of Tampico and began looking anxiously for a decent place to stay. A large MOTEL sign brought a sigh of relief and we drove into an inner row of units through a staggered pair of walls which blocked the view of the units from the street. A receptionist came out to greet us and directed us to drive into the garage of one of the units. The garage door was closed behind us and we entered the unit through a door inside the garage. This was the only door to the unit and there were no windows visible in the main room. The room was neat, clean, nicely furnished and looked very welcoming to two weary travelers. I asked about meals (they could be ordered from the front desk and would be brought to the room) and I enquired as well about the nightly room rate. At this point things began to go awry as I could not make sense of what the receptionist was saying. While not fluent in Spanish I could usually understand a simple accommodation conversation and make myself understood as well. The problem seemed to be on the length of stay. The motel girl kept looking at me quizzically each time I mentioned an overnite stay. She didn’t seem to have the same reservations once she looked at my gorgeous wife Janetta though. (At the time I thought it was my Spanish).
After a few minutes of getting nowhere we paused while Janetta went to look at the posted room rates on the door and I took a closer look around the room. She realized that the room was for rent by the hour and I noticed that the walls of the room were covered in mirrors. We both realized at the same moment the type of establishment we had blundered into and that was that. Janetta couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Personally, I was somewhat intrigued but to no avail. Out we went, back to the car and off into the dark Mexican night. We ended up at the Fiesta Inn, 1,450 pesos per nite and to add insult to injury, our bank card was stolen from our room while we were out to dinner.
Describing our experience once we got to Progreso generated quite a few chuckles. My good friend Joe from North Bay took great delight in introducing me to new people at our bridge table: “This is Greer. He’s an authority on Mexican hot sheet-motels.” Usually this just brought me a wary, uncertain glance but one sweet little old lady came back immediately with a reply I still remember: “Oh? Is he an owner or a user?”
We have since seen these motels in just about every city we’ve visited in Mexico – they seem to be a common and accepted part of Mexican culture. Some fellow travelers have said that they have stayed in one on their drive to / from home. And why not? They’re clean, very secure, inexpensive, have meal delivery and, for those that are so inclined, all those mirrors!
YucatanBook Blog – Silent Screams
The experience of writing this novel about a serial killer was interesting, because I wrote most of it in a secluded cabin in the woods of Ulster County. My “security” consisted of a feeble hook and eye lock that a five year old could pry off with a screwdriver. My Home Protection System was a fat, indolent tabby who was more interested in chasing chipmunks and coming home smelling of skunk than warning me of intruders.
My beloved cabin is part of Byrdcliffe Art Colony in the Catskill Mountains, where I slaved over a hot manuscript for two summers, researching by day and writing by candlelight. I put in requests to the Woodstock Library for every book they had on serial killers, forensics, and other sordid topics. This was during the Bush administration, so I’m surprised they didn’t flag my library card – I kept expecting a Lincoln town car to pull into my driveway with two Men in Black wearing Ray Bans and ear pieces. I imagined being whisked away by the FBI or the NSA to languish in an Egyptian prison, where I would finally give up the names of my “handlers” – Pia and her colleagues at the Woodstock Library, where they don’t charge late fees, because, according to Pia, “We tried it once, but it was too much trouble.”
Such is the spirit of Ulster County at its best, and such were my summers, where recreation was playing an old upright piano (formerly owned by The Band), in between death matches of killer ping pong in the barn with fellow writers. The closest I came that summer to real danger was the hike I took in the Catskills with Byrdcliffe colleague Alexandra Anderson and painter friend Lucy Nurkse. We entered the woods at about ten in the morning, thinking we’d be out by tea time. Our Three Hour Tour turned into a Death March that had us staggering out around sunset, covered with mosquito bites and poison ivy, down to our last bottle Evian. I’m not sure which of us was Ginger and which was Marianne, but I’m pretty sure I was Gilligan. We’re still not sure why our copious maps led us astray, but I learned something that day:
The woods take no prisoners.
So I came back to my cabin, settled in with a bottle of ibuprofen and a cup of coffee from Monkey Joe in Kingston, and worked on my manuscript. I had a first draft by the end of the second summer there, and the rest, as they say, is silence – as in Silent Screams.
I wrote the sequel at Hawthornden Castle, an international retreat for writers in Scotland where I was a Fellow (I love saying that) last January. The castle was a medieval structure which provided shelter to William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, during their rebellions against the British crown. I hiked through the glens to Wallace’s Cave, where he allegedly camped while in hiding from the English. The castle was later owned by poet Lord William Drummond, and now is a retreat for writers owned by the heir to the Heinz corporation. So every packet of ketchup sold by McDonalds helps support working writers.
In Scotland, I learned to eat haggis (notice I didn’t say “liked”), took long hot baths in a tub the size of the East River, and was taken very good care of by the wonderful Scottish staff. They kept tea out for us at all times, which was good, since the Scots apparently don’t believe in central heating – and Scotland in January will freeze your tatties off.
Words can hardly do justice to a landscape that, even in January, brought tears to my eyes daily. The glens are as romantic and craggy as I had hoped they would be, and the Scottish people were as friendly as their landscape was rugged. My fellow writers included two wonderful British poets and a lovely Russian writer who spoke no English. We communicated through a computer translator program, which was rather like being on a bad episode of Star Trek.
Ah, Scotland! Ah, Ulster! I long to return to you soon . . .
Visit C. E. Lawrence’s website: http://celawrence.com