Friday, 29 April 2011

imagination and belief

So they say that faith can move mountains. But can it? My daughter Eden is doubtful.

She has a whole head and heart full of faith. She desperately wants to believe - in fairies, in Peter Pan, in pirates, in mermaids, in unicorns, in miracles Jesus performed, in resurrection.

One morning, Eden came downstairs and said, "I actually DO believe in Peter Pan."

Several nights earlier, this was our conversation:

Eden: (speaking through sobs) I believe in pirates. I believe in mermaids. I believe in fairies. I believe in the colour green. But I don't believe in Peter Pan.

Me: Why not? You told me that you saw Peter Pan at your window some nights.

Eden: (sobbing loudly) I lied.

When it was storming the other day, she opened the door and yelled "Calm down!" Then she got progressively softer until it was just a whisper: calm down. But then she slammed the door and said, "No fair! Jesus can calm the storms but I can't. How am I supposed to follow Jesus if I can't even do what he did?"

A tough question to answer.

The resurrection stories have captivated Eden lately: Lazarus, Jesus, Jairus' daughter. But after each story, she says, "No fair! Why can Jesus make people come back to life but we can't? Then we could have Daddy's grandma back and he wouldn't have to cry and be sad that she died."

I think that it takes a whole lot of imagination to really believe. And sometimes I have more imagination than others. I sure do want my kids to hold on to a good dose for as long as they can.

And watching a Prince get married this early morning? Well, we definitely all believed in fairy tales.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

jump in!

I wondered whether to walk to school today. I had the car, so it would have been easy not to walk. It was raining a tiny bit, and I thought "it's just water" and headed out the door.

I turned back once before getting my daughter #2 at school #1. It had started to rain harder. But after a few paces, I thought "it's just water" and kept on going. It felt good to be out. The air was warm, the rain was cool. After getting Eden, we decided to carry on to get daugher #1 at school #2.

On the way, it started raining harder. With my "it's just water" philosophy, I kept on. When we were about 5 minutes from that school, it started pouring. I turned toward home. I knew I had just enough time to walk/run home, get the car, and pick up daughter #1.

Daughter #2: Mom, it's fine! Let's just keep going.
Me: (turning toward school) Oh, all right.

A minute later, torrential downpour. Howling wet winds needled my face like hail. I couldn't see out of one eye for a minute - the rain came down on an angle, into one eye, and dislodged one of my contacts. I ran all the way to school and we waited by the front door. I was laughing.

My jeans were beyond soaked, and my shoes too. Daughter #2 was curled up in a little ball, protected inside our bike stroller/carriage, a little shaken.

Daughter #2: Mom, I'm sorry. We should've gone home. Can we call the car to come here and get us?
Me: (still laughing) No. We're fine, and it was actually fun. It was an EXPERIENCE!

It rained most of the way home. And now, minutes later - the SUN! And you wouldn't believe my sense of accomplishment and relief when I saw our house. Like getting to the end of a long portage and seeing the lake. Getting into dry jeans was a glorious experience as well.

And it made me think of how many times I opt out of things - when I don't jump in - because I think I don't feel like it. Like skipping every evening after supper. My daughters are really into skipping right now, and want Derek and I to turn the rope for them. Often I don't feel like doing this after supper. But what to do instead? Dishes? Laundry? Read? More work?

When I jump in and skip, turn the rope for these giggling girls, I never regret it. Their joy is contagious. 

I'll take the soaked pants, the sopping hair, and the puddles in my shoes for the exhileration and thanksgiving I felt just to be alive today to see this glorious rain.

And now this beautiful sun. And I just heard on the radio that there were "gusts of wind in Kitchener-Waterloo up to 110 km/hr and risk of isolated tornadoes." Whew! No wonder I felt alive!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

family rituals: the eggs

In France last Easter, I looked desperately for white eggs, but everywhere they looked at me curiously. Pour colorier, I said.  In Migros grocery store a helpful woman understood, led me to the children's Easter crafts and proudly handed me white plastic eggs. I smiled in thanks, still smiling as I went to the egg aisle, picked up a carton of the brown ones, and headed home.

I don't know why I fretted over this. My grandma always used brown ones, and I thought they were so beautiful. Brown eggs wrapped in onion skins, boiled to dye. Gorgeous orangey-brown hues, perfect orbs holding great mystery.

And here were our French Easter eggs:

not too bad, eh?

I almost prefer these shades to the ones on our white eggs. This year, we had a dying-good-time with my sister and her little girl. Busy hands (and tiny feet!) at the table:

and the Easter egg dyed sky as we finished our eggs:

Monday, 25 April 2011

family rituals: seder supper

Last Thursday we celebrated a Seder supper with friends. Children and adults, joined around the table to hear stories of slavery and freedom and hope for the future.

And one of the youngest ones asks in Hebrew, "How is this night different from all other nights?"

Pesach Seder (in Hebrew)

It's a shared storytelling, with children asking questions and adults trying their best to answer. And the foods - symbolic tastes of hardship in the form of bitter horseradish, salty water like tears, and flat matza bread given no time to rise.

This is our 5th year celebrating this meal, and each year has been different and meaningful in its own way. Last year we celebrated a bilingual Seder in France. This is a tradition that has been held and encouraged by our children. After experiencing it once, our oldest daughter asked the next year, "Who will we celebrate the Seder with this year?"

We celebrate layers of story. Each year there are different freedoms on our minds. Each year people who are oppressed, not yet free. Each year the same story, but different. Remembering deliverance from oppression, remembering this meal that Jesus shared with his close friends, and remembering our hope for a new day when all will be free.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

family rituals: egg cheese

My grandma taught me how to make egg cheese. I've made it almost every Easter since she died. It's one of my little silent promises to her that I'll keep some of her recipes alive, and pass them on to my own children.

The recipe is from my Swiss Mennonite tradition and it's made from 8 cups whole milk, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tsp salt, and 6 eggs. Rich. I say a little prayer each time I make this recipe, hoping it will turn out and I will not burn the milk by stepping away and becoming distracted. I plant my feet in front of the stove and vow not to move. I'd rather not make a late-night grocery run for more whole milk.

It's a slow recipe. Lots of watching and waiting and slowly stirring from one side of the pot to the other. Then waiting some more. When the curds finally separate from the whey, I always count it a small miracle.

I can't resist trying just a small bowl with fresh maple syrup.

It's wrapped in cheesecloth and left to drip in the fridge overnight. On Easter morning, I peel back these white cloths and it reminds me of other white cloths empty of a body lying in an open tomb. A miracle.

Making these Easter foods over the past days has made me mindful of small miracles.

The miracle of:

  • curds separating from whey,
  • yeast rising into sweet bread,
  • clear sap transformed to sweet golden syrup,
  • white eggs becoming a rainbow,
  • the sky with its setting sun its own dyed-egg-beauty.

If I can believe in these small miracles, could my mind be open to bigger ones?

Seed to plant
acorn to oak
all of these are small miracles
slow miracles
that take time,
inspire wonder
as I slow myself
to watch them unfold
and behold!!!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

family rituals

I am the carrier of tradition and ritual in our little family. And I love it - this passing on from generation to generation, seeds of mystery and possibility and meaning and hope. Things that anchor us to our yearly cycles. That tie us to the seasons, and to the depth of ancient religious festivals. I love this.

I've found that our kids can create traditions as well, or remind us of something done once with the expectation for repetition, year after year. Like our seder supper.

I watch their excitement as I bring out seasonal boxes - some kitsch, some beauty, all reminders of this season. They love to help decorate, to make a space for this special time.

I often think about the high holiday rituals we celebrate around Christmas and Easter, and how to make those seasons meaningful outside of the consumerist bent. Both of these celebrations were ones I grew up with and have found memories of our family times together.

We also had a meaningful winter solstice last year, and the seder meal has become an important part of our Easter celebrations. For Thanksgiving we've celebrated the Feast of Booths for the past 2 years with our church. I love how the seder and feast of booths include storytelling and symbolic foods as part of the tradition.

I tell myself that these rituals and traditions are for my children, but really they're for me too - to ground me, guide me, give me purpose. I want to feel like I'm passing something on - from my grandparents and my parents to my own children - memories of Easters with paska bread and egg cheese, Christmas feasts with jam-jam and pfeffernusse cookies. Foods that become meaning.

Here's a CBC podcast I enjoyed about family ritual.

What family rituals and traditions are important to you?

Friday, 22 April 2011

glimpses of God

This morning I was reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. And while her theology is different than mine, I can definitely learn a lot from it. With beautiful writing, she talks about thankfulness - noticing the little details of our lives that may be glimpses of God and writing them down. She speaks of the change in her own life when she started keeping a list of these gifts - all the way to 1000.

She talks about the Greek word "eucharisteo" - giving thanks - and how it is used in the Bible. And that this inclination towards thankfulness, even when times are excruciatingly tough, can lead to a life of joy. I've said a resounding YES to the popular living-in-the-present-moment, attitude-of-gratitude kind of psychology, but it hasn't led to real change. But this one feels a bit different. And inspiring. And doable.

A couple of things this book reminds me of:
  • Bryan Moyer Suderman's song "Detectives of Divinity" - that if we're looking carefully, like detectives, we'll see God's activity in the world around us and join in. Great song.
  • Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project. I read this book quickly last fall, devouring its pages. Gretchen kept a gratitude notebook as part of her year-long experimentation in becoming more consistently happy.
So I have a new project. To look for glimpses of God - become a detective of divinity - and write down these glimpses everyday. Glimpses of good things, of things for which I'm deeply grateful, even though they seem like small things. And we'll see what happens.

Here's the list that I started this morning:
  1. a woodpecker waking me up by pecking persistently on the eavestrough (beak on metal! I found this very funny, even at 6:30 am)
  2. the smell of Easter paska yeast bread rising
  3. the small(er) hands stirring the dough and licking the spoons
  4. the sounds of spring birds in the backyard
  5. skipping ropes and my girls' laughter
  6. a clean kitchen counter top
  7. piano keys plunking out blues tunes by my 7 year old 
  8. lunch prepared for me, not by me
  9. a leisurely day and time to read
  10. love notes delivered to me in 4 year old handwriting
Some great quotes from Ann's book:

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. -- Sarah Ban Breathnach

If you want to change the world, pick up your pen. -- Martin Luther

Monday, 18 April 2011

one voice

More on my voice theme... I've loved this song for a long while, and the Conrad Grebel gals who starred in the play called "Open?" sang it at the end of the play. It was a wonderful solidarity, we're in this together, kind of empowering piece. Very moving.

The work I've loved best has been collaborative and stronger because of the whole, not just because of one person. But we as individuals are so important too. So the one voice is important, and the many together are potently powerful. One voice + many voices.

Here's the song:

I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything, 
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-- Edward Everett Hale

Sunday, 17 April 2011

training wheels spring

When my daughter Eden woke up to snow on the ground this morning, she said, "Mom, I think it's a training wheels spring. It's trying really hard to be spring, but it's not quite ready yet."

I loved this, and thought of the many ways that I am "training wheels." Many days, I feel like a training wheels parent, a training wheels wife, a training wheels writer, etc. etc. etc. I have this feeling like I haven't quite arrived, and that I need to prove to myself that I really am the real deal.

Eden is wishing lately that she would be 5. July seems like too far away, and she's tired of being 4. She's very conscious of ways that she wants to grow up and improve - she wants to read, write, swim, hold babies, take care of animals, and many other activities. And she boldly and fearlessly takes them on and sees herself as the real thing - a reader, writer, swimmer, biker - because she sees her progress and is proud. This past week, she graduated from her running bike (a great invention, by the way) to a 2-wheeler bike WITH NO TRAINING WHEELS. She's immensely proud of this accomplishment, and sees herself as a real bike rider now - it has graduated her into an older child category, in her mind at least.

I wonder what fears hold me back from seeing myself as the real thing - a real parent, a real wife, a real writer with a real voice. This reminds me of a favourite quote by Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. 

I think I'm ready for the training wheels to come off... one of these days.

Friday, 15 April 2011

TV or not TV... that is the question

We've gone back and forth over the role of TV in our lives - at times, completely shutting it out, and at other times, welcoming it in. For our daughters, we've tried to see TV as something "special" - not a must have, but a treat. 

The last show we watched together was the French election debate between our national leaders in Canada. Before that, it was the English debate the night before. Before that, I can't remember. Probably some show in March break just to take the edge off the holidays (for me - not them!). 

When we don't watch TV, there are many great things that happen. Like this:

a "folding tissues into houses" workshop that Eden led,

handiwork during our 4-month France sabbatical (which included a sabbatical from TV!),

playing school, Peter Pan, travelers to Bali, dog owners, and many other adventures and escapades.

We have had some good TV times, but the videos that we all like are few and far between. I'm not a big fan of Disney animated films for my kids because of the portrayal of the "bad guys." Inevitably, one of them finds the movies too scary, or has a nightmare that night that was directly related to the story.

We've also had some bad TV times - mostly bad because of the behaviour afterward. Poor doesn't even begin to describe it. They just want more, more, and more. When we give a little, they beg for more.

There are some movies that we've watched over and over again. Some of the best experiences have been when we've read a novel together of the same title first. Here's a list of the movies we've come to love:

* Mary Poppins

Product Details* The Sound of Music (just up until the end of the performance at the concert hall)

*Families of the World series: We watched "Families of Canada" and learned about a girl who takes 2 buses and a ferry to school in Nova Scotia!

* Little Travelers: These 2 American girls are right around the age of my girls, and they've lived in several different countries for 3 month stints. My kids love learning about other countries through these movies. I love how their style is kind of home-movie-ish and natural - not over-produced. They've inspired me to edit some of our home movies, particularly ones from our travels.

* Curious George

* Magic School Bus

* Disney's Peter Pan (an exeption to our experience with other Disney animated flicks)

* Rodgers and Hammerstein's/Disney Cinderella (great musical)

So-so movies:

* Wizard of Oz (a bit too scary for us still :)
* High School Musical (love the music, but the teenage angst is a bit much at times)
* Jump In (love the double dutch skipping, but the teenage angst is a bit much at times)
* Charlotte's Web (so, so sad when Charlotte dies)

Adult shows we've enjoyed in recent years: The Office, Glee, and Chuck. Fun, funny, entertaining.

I'm not convinced by the argument that violent TV/video/whatever media doesn't produce violence. I know my own reactions - when I see a suspenseful movie, I go out of the theatre and look twice down every back alley. It influences the way I see the world, at least for a couple of hours until it's out of my system. When I saw Charlie's Angels in the theatre years ago, I came out ready to kick some serious butt, imagining my jumps and kicks being suspended in mid-air for several moments.

What we eat matters, and the media we digest matter too. And so we're picky. And you? What are your favourites? Not so favourites?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

fast food: 5 minute mug of chocolate cake

We mostly try to do the slow food thing around here, but there are times when fast works really well. Like these 5 minute mugs of chocolate cake. What could be better?

Here's the recipe:

4 T all purpose flour
4 T sugar
2 T cocoa
1 egg
3 T milk
3 T oil
3 T chocolate chips 
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large, microwave-safe mug
Add the first three ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (optional) and vanilla extract. Mix again. 
Place your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will rise over the top of the mug. Cool the cake a little bit, then tip it out onto a plate. Share with a friend!

If you're feeling really adventurous, top with whipped cream or ice cream.

So easy, and so satisfying, and so fast. Yum!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

a full heart

I'm thinking today about all of those times when I had a full heart. When my heart felt like it was full to overflowing, beaming and expanding with love.

Here are some of them:

Me with my babies - a photo of me, my 3 siblings, my husband, and my 2 daughters. How lucky I am to have held all of these babies in my arms and heart. I think that holding my siblings and children as babies makes me see them differently as they grow up. My heart beams with pride when I see them expanding and growing and trying new things.

I want to carry this full heart with me on days when my buttons are pushed more often than usual (by those daughters of mine :). I want to remember that unconditional love, excitement, and joy I felt at holding their little baby bodies. Those moments are all too fleeting. But I want to treasure them up, have them at the front of my memory files, and use them as the lens through which I see them right now.

Monday, 4 April 2011


My daughter was counting down the days until April 1st. On that day, she had a little role in a play called "Open?". The play was written, directed and performed by a group of Conrad Grebel students. The focus was on telling stories to highlight refugee issues in Canada. They sold out the venue and all of the money raised went to Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support.

I overheard this daughter telling her 4 year old friend the other day, "It's called 'Open' and it has a question mark at the end because they're wondering 'should we be open to refugees?' Do you know what refugees are? They are people who have to leave their countries for some reasons like earthquakes and stuff. I think Canada should be open to people who need help. So it should be a period, instead of a question mark. What do you think?"

Amazing to overhear 4 year old conversations.