Tuesday, 31 May 2011

rhubarb bubble tea and other spring flings

We made this rhubarb soda recipe with a little twist: we added tapioca, took away some of the sugar, and added a bit of maple syrup. Bubble tea with tapioca is a treat for all members of our family. We love how the tapioca comes shooting up the huge straws.

So this was a perfect spring time beverage. Sugar + spring + tapioca. Genius, eh?

I've never declared a season to be my favourite, but this year I'll have to say that I'm just LOVING spring. And it may just be my favourite season. I'm noticing all of the little changes - through photos and through my daughters. And I'm grateful.

But like my daughters' growth, I want to freeze spring - the baby bunnies, the just-new plants, the fragrant blossoms on trees, the first flowers. But it's all just tumbling out now, racing into summer.

Each day I'm trying to do something to slow spring down. To eat outside (when it's not raining). To walk. To notice the swirly snail-trails on the sidewalk. To watch a bird carry a worm to its nest. To hold wriggling worms in garden gloves. To take a photo. To touch the feathery flower petals. To close my eyes and inhale lily-of-the-valley or lilac or apple blossoms again and again and again. 

gathering dandelions


sweet magnolias

robin after the rain

a nest of baby bunnies in my sister's backyard
could anything be cuter?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

thin spaces

I've been reading about the Celtic notion of "thin spaces" - places or moments where the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is very thin. Where we experience a deep sense of God's presence in our everyday life, if only for a moment. Some people write about actual places as thin spaces/places. Others write about actual moments, regardless of the place where they occur - thin times.

It's made me think about my own "thin spaces/times" over the course of my life. Here are a few I can think of:
  • helping today with a baptism of a dear youth I have grown to love. Seeing someone make a public commitment to walking a particular path is awfully inspiring to me. Gets me all choked up.
  • working at Fraser Lake Camp as a teenager/young adult. This was very hard work with some very needy kids, but there were a number of times - even just walking along a wooded path by myself - where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was with me. 
  • spending time with my grandmas as they were dying in the hospital - singing, talking, and crying.
  • watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.
releasing Dotty the butterfly
  • the births of my 2 daughters. 
  • when a piece of music or artwork or theatre or writing or speaking just takes my breath away - even for a second.
Some of these thin spaces have been experienced in solitude, and some in the company of friends and family. Some are tied to certain physical places - like being alone beside a beautiful lake, or experiencing an incredible sunrise from a mountaintop. Others are tied to certain people or experiences. It strikes me that a number of my thin experiences have been linked to beginnings or endings - both sacred times.

I like the idea of being open to them - even searching for them - in our daily lives. I think that life can be filled with thin spaces - if we're looking.

What are some of your "thin space" experiences?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

sugar + spring

What do you get when you blend sugar + spring? Yummy goodness!

foraging along sidewalks
One day after school, we hunted along the sidewalk paths for violets and dandelions. We wanted to make spring flower jam and jelly and we decided on 2 recipes: violet jam and dandelion jelly. 

Violet Jam

I adapted this recipe to suit my low-maintenance purposes. Here's what I did:

3/4 cup to 1 cup loosely packed violet blossoms
1 cup water
3 T lemon juice
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 package liquid pectin

Blend violets, 1/2 cup water, and lemon juice. Heat 1/2 cup water, cinnamon, honey, and sugar in a saucepan. When warm, add pectin and stir until mixed well. Add violet mixture, then bring to a boil. Stir constantly for about two minutes. Pour into prepared jars to set. Don't have to bother canning - just eat, refrigerate, or freeze. Eat with soft goat cheese or cream cheese on good crackers, like these ones. Makes  3-4 125 ml jars of jam.

Dandelion Jelly

4 cups whole dandelion flowers (not stems)
2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
3 oz / 85 ml liquid pectin
yellow food colouring (optional)

Pick open, yellow flowers, snipping off the stems. Collect about 4 cups whole dandelion flowers. Snip off the yellow parts into a bowl (you'll get a bit of green - that's ok). Pour 2 cups boiling water over the yellow snips and let it steep for 1 hour or overnight. Strain through a fine sieve or coffee filter, reserving the dandelion infusion. Pour the infusion into a large pot, then stir in lemon juice and sugar. Cook on high; bring to a full rolling boil. Add liquid pectin and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Add food colouring to make it look more yellow. I used 15 drops because 15 seemed like a nice number. Ladle quickly into prepared hot jars. Place warm lids and bands on before filling the next jar. Screw band on tightly, then flip jar upside down for 5 to 10 minutes to seal. If any jars don't seal, process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, eat right away, or put in fridge or freezer. Makes 9 small 125 ml jars of goodness. Yummy on bagels.

Happy spring to you!

Friday, 27 May 2011

glad, sad, sorry

Sometimes one of my happiest times of the day is looking at these little angelic sleeping faces.

Is that bad?

But some evenings, getting to this lovely quiet space seems like a lot of work. Like when there is a thunderstorm outside. Or when one of the girls is bugging the other (they share a room). Or when a friend said something mean and there are questions of how to deal with it tomorrow. Or when one person is singing really loudly. Or when there's a deep theological question or concern. Or when someone just wants to know that her parents are really, really close until sleep finally overcomes.

A friend taught us this bedtime ritual that I love. We read stories, do "glad, sad, sorry" and then we say this blessing.

What's glad, sad, sorry?

It's a simple version of the Ignatius practice of examen -  a prayerful reflection on the day's events - to see glimpses of God and discern future direction. In this simplified version, you answer these three little questions:

When I think back on what happened today,

1. What made me glad?
2. What made me sad?
3. What made me feel sorry?

One daughter loves to do this every night. The other one just listens, and occasionally pipes in with a "glad" story. I'm always asked to share my glads, sads, and sorries too.

I've noticed that it changes something about our days. The littlest one (the one who loves to talk and share her feelings) can usually remember the different emotions of her day. Some days she has referred back to something that made her sad or sorry from the day before, and this has changed her attitude in the present moment. She might be thinking: if I don't change my behaviour/attitude now, then this might be something I will feel the need to share at glad/sad/sorry time tonight.

And it's helped me too.

I try to encourage and expand those parts of my day that make me glad and that give me life. Granted, not all that is sad can be pushed out of our lives - nor should it. But the things that often make me feel sorry are ways that I treat others (particularly family members) that are not-so-life-giving. So these are the pieces I want to change the next day.

My mother-in-law gave me this book that I love - Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life.

On the first pages, they tell a story of orphaned children who had been placed in refugee camps during World War II. Many of them could not sleep at night because they were so afraid. Someone had the idea of giving them a piece of bread to hang onto at bedtime. As they held their bread, they could finally drift off to sleep peacefully. The bread reminded them "Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow."

They compare this sleeping with bread to praying the examen prayer at the end of the day, and holding on to what gives you life during the course of the next day.

Do you have ways that you "hold onto your daily bread"? Bedtime routines that get you ready for sleep, while reflecting on the day and anticipating the next? A cup of tea or wine? Journalling? Talking with someone? Do tell!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

dollar store faith trinkets

When I started this blog, I wondered whether to talk about my faith.

Because in some circles, following Jesus and calling myself the big "C" word is so not cool. I'm from the "quiet in the land" Mennonite clan, where we preach the gospel through our actions and if necessary, use words.

As I shopped for craft supplies the other day, I realized that Christianity isn't even dollar store cool anymore. Plastic nightlight Jesus has been replaced with fake stone garden Buddha. Sad skinny bleeding half-naked man on a plastic cross, nails in feet has been replaced with chubby jolly half-naked man, coins at his feet.

I'm not knocking Buddhism here - not at all. There are many profound things I've learned from this faith. And I see why Buddha is more appealing for garden decor than Jesus. I guess what I'm looking for is for it to be OK (even cool?) for people to talk about faith in general - even if it happens to be of the Christian variety.

There are some places where we're just not encouraged to talk about faith. Like at public schools. Or in government. Or when we meet our neighbours on the street. Or at a neighbourhood barbeque. Or at the dollar store selling faith trinkets. Or until we know people really, really, really well.

And I wonder why. These are the questions I love. I love to be a detective of faith, looking for little clues and snippets of God. I find that especially with new friendships it takes months, sometimes years, before questions of faith arise. But this is even true with some people that I've known for years. How do we broach these topics?

Sometimes the closest I get to a conversation about faith/spirituality is this:

You: I do yoga. I love it.
Me: Ya, me too. Very relaxing.

or this:

You: I find God in nature.
Me: Ya, me too.

Yoga and nature are great, and they're part of the whole spirituality package for me. But there's something about the human interaction element of spirituality that I find I need. I need people to push me on - a community to support me, nurture me, and question me. I need to see glimpses of God in others to inspire me. I need inspiring ideas and words to hold onto. I need others - in addition to my personal practices of yoga or prayer or meditation. I need to be part of something bigger than myself.

And so maybe these dollar store trinkets are a good thing. If I saw one in your garden, perhaps it would open up a conversation about faith. Perhaps they are little things for us to hold onto that remind us that we are spiritual beings.

If I could get up the courage, these are the questions I'd ask you:

  • Where do you see God in your everyday life?
  • Who are the people you talk to about faith?
  • How can I remember you in my thoughts and prayers right now? What are your hurts, struggles, questions?
  • How can we help each other down this road called life - to live with courage and meaning and depth and joy?

P.S. I do like to have conversations about other not-so-serious things too, like lilacs in the spring, flavours of ice cream, bubble tea mixtures, thrift store purchases, garage sale finds, and travel stories. So don't worry - I won't pester you with the heavy questions every time we meet.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

God on a Venn diagram

My youngest daughter had a burning question on her mind last week: are God and Jesus really the same?

She had been told that they were. But here was her response:

"If they're the same, that means that God died when Jesus died. How could God die? If God died, did God come back to life again too? And why was Jesus talking to God when he was on the cross if they're both just the same? He couldn't do that if he was really God."

It's hard to me to know how to answer these questions because I don't really know what I believe sometimes. I'll admit it: I'm a doubter at heart. I don't like pat answers. It's easier for me to explain what I DON'T believe. But who wants to pass on unbelief?

But I LOVE questions as a way to dig deeper, and it makes me happy to see questioning minds in my kids.

This God/Jesus research project involved asking several key adults what they thought about the question of Jesus and God being the same.

She brought it up again at supper one evening. Then my older daughter recommended putting it all into a Venn diagram to figure out if, in fact, God and Jesus were the same. This is what they came up with:

If it's hard to see, here it is:

Jesus - human (person), died, 12 disciples, made Easter, son of  God
Both - special, people pray to them/bow down, calm storms, loving, talked about everywhere (famous), heal people
God - created the earth, things grow, separated the Red sea, first spirit on earth, sent a flood

This is what I love to see: searching, questioning, asking different people for their opinion/belief, and trying to piece their own interpretation together. This is faith forming/building to me.

Monday, 23 May 2011

saying goodbye to a pet

Why is it that when a pet dies, it can just break your heart?

I wouldn't even call myself a huge dog or cat lover, but I've shed countless tears over close pets. Even as I remember their names, their cute little faces flash in front of me: Sarge. Prince. Rutherford. Dexter. Carlo. All loyal, wonderful dogs, quirky in their own ways.

Each represents a period of my life, and the memories attached.

Carlo died last week - my parents' farm dog. He lived a good life, and survived several near-death experiences. We had cried and said goodbye to him before. But last week was a surprise.

It was heartbreaking to tell my daughters; their sorrow was so raw.

Carlo was a one-eyed dog - the eye was lost in a scrap with a protective farm cat when he was young. When my parents saw his one pleading, kind eye, they knew he was the one for them.

My daughters learned a lot from this one-eyed wonder. He was always so gentle with them, and so happy to see them. Carlo taught them playfulness, gentleness, and a love for God's creatures. His excited tail wagged right into them as little toddlers, sometimes knocking them right over because of his one-eyed periferal vision.

There was Bandit, the raccoon we kept in the barn for a summer (but in our memories it's much longer) who nibbled on strawberries right out of our hands, slid down the slide with us, followed us around the yard right at our heels, and climbed up onto my Dad's shoulders.

And Mrs. Boots, the cat whose water broke all over my bed quilt one afternoon, just before she gave birth to a litter of kittens. She was the only farm cat ever allowed in the house, and she saved those kittens from an awful storm by scratching on the screen door and meowing to be let in.

We've sheltered our daughters from the heartache of losing a pet by refusing to own one - until this past Christmas. Then a little guinea pig came home with us from the animal shelter, and she's since been wiggling and squeaking her way into our hearts.

And you? What pets have you loved and lost? How did you say goodbye?

Friday, 20 May 2011

couscous and fiddleheads (embarrassing school lunches)

The other day I packed couscous  and fiddleheads in my daughter's lunch. I thought, "Perfect! Leftovers! She loved this last night at supper, so I'll just warm it up and put it in her thermos for lunch."

the offending lunch
Couscous and fiddleheads in a school lunch bag? How stupid could I be?

She sheepishly told me in the evening that she hadn't eaten it. She had opened the thermos at school, and a friend leaned over and said, "Yuck! Don't eat that!" and so she didn't.

So we talked about peer pressure (actually it was more like a lecture) and not letting others decide what we're going to say or do with our lives, and blah, blah, blah. And how you need energy for your school day, and the fiddleheads are rich in anti-oxidants and are special and only in season right now... Give me a break. As IF I would have eaten couscous and fiddleheads in my lunch when I was 7. There's no way.

How could I forget how school lunches - their contents and how they're packaged - can contribute to some sort of school social hierarchy? Egg salad sandwiches - always guaranteed some "yucks" in the room. Anything packaged and disposable - cool, unless it's the rice crackers that smell like shrimp that your mom bought at the Asian supermarket last week (sorry again, my dear daughter).

It's hard when you have weird parents. And I think that my parents are OK with me calling them "weird" because I've paid them the highest compliment - I've become a weird parent myself!

But as a kid - sometimes it's hard when you have weird parents.

As a kid, I wanted:

  • a Strawberry Shortcake doll
  • Barbie dolls
  • Jos. Louis and Flaky snacks in my lunch
  • sugar cereals
  • leather Cougar boots
  • a Ouija board
  • Roots clothing
  • earrings
  • a swimming pool (outdoor or indoor, I didn't care)
  • a tennis court
  • parachute pants
  • windbreakers
  • stone-washed jeans
  • to go to a Corey Hart concert when I was in Grade 8

I got:

  • a Strawberry Shortcake doll
  • a Cindy doll who was less voluptuous than Barbie
  • the Sunshine family dolls (including Grandma, Grandpa, and baby)
  • healthy snacks in my lunch like celery cars with carrot wheels (and peanut butter for the seats, and raisins for the people)
  • Jos. Louis, Flakies, and sugared cereals only when Dad did the shopping
  • look-alike Cougar boots
  • lots of books
  • clothes handmade by Mom
  • earrings eventually but not soon enough
  • a swimming hole back in the gravel pit when the water level was high enough every 7 years
  • a moderate disdain for trendy things
  • a good dose of the Protestant work ethic
  • a belief that less is more
  • a belief that I should waste not and want not
  • the knowledge that my parents loved me, despite my lack of cool possessions.
So... I'm passing on what I know. Becoming a weird parent so that my kids can one day aspire to be the same. And I'm pretty sure a little writer will one day write about the horror of couscous and fiddleheads in her school lunch. At least I'm prepared.

Any memories of school lunches YOU'd like to share?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

"national do one thing at a time" day

This past Monday, Jian Ghomeshi (CBC Radio, "Q") declared it "National One Thing At A Time" day.

As a woman, I think I'm expected to be a good multi-tasker. But I'm not. When I bake something, I frequently forget about it the minute I put it in the oven. This has resulted in many burnt offerings and disappointments. Thank goodness for loud oven timers. And if you arrive a bit early and I'm still trying to work out the timing of everything needed for our lovely meal? Well, watch out - my attention to you (a good thing) will result in over- and under-cooked food for our bellies (a bad thing).

I'm easily distracted. I can go to the laundry room with the intent of putting in a load of laundry and returning DIRECTLY to my writing (which is my day job right now). But then I see an area that could be tidied, or read an interesting article on the back of a Cheerios box, or find a box of letters that I think I must sort NOW.

I need to tell myself "NO! Not right now, Rebecca!" and force myself to leave the scene.

I know that I can accomplish a lot when my focused is narrowed to one singular task. And I know that I can find more joy and enjoyment when I'm just thinking about one thing at a time. My mind starts to worry when it's flitting from one thing to the next. This Zen proverb speaks to me out of its simplicity:
When walking, walk. When eating, eat.
Or this Italian one:
Often he [or she] who does too much does too little.
Or this one:
If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. 
Speaking of 2 rabbits, there are 2 lovely backyard bunnies who entertain us some mornings. Here is one:
I tried to get both in one photo, but couldn't - so I focused on one!
But I digress - this post is not about rabbits. It's about focus.

OK. I get it. I have a monkey mind, often jumping from one thing to the next. I have to be intentional and try really hard to tune out the noise sometimes. It's about focusing on certain (positive, helpful) thoughts and comments, and letting go of the rest.

For me, focus is also about priorities. I need to resist the temptation to do more. I need to resist the temptation to consume more. To have less, do less, and then magically have more - more time, more space, more room for surprises. And sometimes it means choosing to focus on what gives me life - spending time with family and friends, creating music & artwork & gifts & food for others and with others, and having a wee bit of quiet time too.

This great article speaks about the price we pay when we multitask - particularly what our brains look like "on computers." The bursts of information through e-mail, phone calls, text messages, etc. is re-wiring our brains. Research shows that heavy multitaskers experience more stress, fractured thinking, and lack of focus.

I want to practice unitasking - to train my mind to have a singular focus. Not for the whole day, certainly - and maybe not even for one whole hour. But to be where I am, concentrated on one task at a time.

This text speaks to me of focus, and of paring back - having less to have more:
Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)
I want my heart/treasure to be focused where it matters. Sometimes this will be on mundane tasks, and often on life-giving ones. I find that lists help me focus on work and mundane tasks. But do I need lists to focus on the important ones too? Like being fully present (and not scrolling through a list in my head) when a child is telling me a VERY long story?

Anyone have a good pattern for purse-making - ones that don't wear out? I may be up for a sewing project soon. OK. Getting off-track again.

How do you focus on one thing at a time, or on what really matters?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

gathered 'round the food

Some of my favourite meals are ones that take place AROUND something. Like a campfire. Everyone prepares and cooks their own hotdogs, marshmallows, or tin foil dinners. Nothing like fire-cooked food on a warm summer day to make you feel content and ready for a long night of sleeping on the ground.

Other fun family foods have been fondue, raclette, crepes, and hot pot. Meals where we are sharing and preparing a meal around the table. We love how participatory they are, and how the meal can last for hours. Everyone gets their hands in there, and chooses items that they want to eat. We've enjoyed our raclette grill ever since receiving it as a wedding gift - yummy stinky cheese melted and scraped over boiled potatoes and grilled vegetables.

And I love its history - that cow herders would go up into the Swiss mountains with a block of cheese and a sack of potatoes. They would boil their potatoes over a fire, and scrape melted cheese on top. Yum.

Here's one of our favourite raclette recipes to try on a raclette grill (it's a mix of Mexico and Switzerland):

1 avocado, diced
1 tsp garlic, crushed
2 T lime juice
2 T fresh coriander, chopped
1/2 lb (250 g) cooked shrimp, peeled and de-veined
raclette cheese, thinly sliced

Toss first 4 ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Grill shrimp in raclette trays. Top with avocado mixture and cheese. Broil until cheese has melted and shrimp are warm (about 5 minutes). Eat!

The idea of crepes as a social-type meal was a new one to us - at a friend's house in France, we made our own mini-crepes on a grill that had 6 little circular sections. We could add our own meat and cheese to make a savoury version, or just have sweet ones with jam, sugar, and Nutella.

Here is a shot from our Christmas hot pot experience at a restaurant in Markham:

around a Christmas hot pot
We were at a friend's birthday party the other night where her Spanish husband cooked up paella for the crowd. So yummy, and interesting to see how it was cooked up on a specially made paella gas burner outside. And I love the history of it: that it was traditionally made by workers in the fields, using whatever ingredients were available. The "bomba" rice is put into the pan in the shape of a cross, even by those who wouldn't consider themselves religious. It's a real social affair - right from the cooking to the eating.

These are my comfort foods - the meals that last forever, with the talking, laughing, and sharing that happens. And my kids? These are the meals they beg for - the special ones where guests are at the table, creating a meal and experience together.

In France, we started a fun tradition called "first week fondue" - a fondue to celebrate the end of the first week of school. We partake in both cheese and chocolate and are fully stuffed by the end. We roll up the stairs to bed, which is a hard thing to do.
around a cheese fondue
Here's our favourite chocolate fondue recipe:

1 really large quality Swiss chocolate bar (dark or milk chocolate)
a bit of milk

For some extra kick, try:
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a tsp ground allspice
  • a tsp cinnamon
  • 2-3 T dark rum or Grand Marnier
  • whipping cream instead of milk

Break up the chocolate bar into smaller chunks. Slowly melt (on low) in a pot on the stove or in the microwave. Add a bit of milk (2 Tablespoons). Whisk it into the melted chocolate. Add a bit more milk if you want to thin out the chocolate a bit more. Eat with: strawberries, bananas, apples, kiwi, mangoes, star fruit, lychees, pineapples, blackberries, chunks of pound cake, pretzels, etc.

    Tuesday, 17 May 2011

    every day growth

    Spring always surprises me: the flowers thrusting out of still-cool soil to smile at the sun, sap rushing up the trees to turn small, hard brown buds into delicate green leaves.

    Every year it seems to go from bud to leaf so quickly - it's as if I can watch the tree change every day. So this year I wanted to capture it. I took a photo of our backyard maple every day from April 28 onwards. And this is what happened:

    Measurable, every day growth.

    And I wanted that for myself. Do you too?

    Cycles of rest followed by unbelievable growth. Remembering each year what it's like to grow, then then just instinctively doing it. No fear, no comparing myself with others' growth, just doing it because it's the right season.

    I know there are scientific explanations for the growth and the timing of this growth, but I'd rather see it as a small miracle.

    I wonder whether the tree reluctantly gives up its leaves in the fall to be still and asleep for months, knowing that a period of growth will come again, or if there is reluctance at each stage - including the growth.

    As nature wakes up from its slumber and drinks this potent elixir of spring, I can easily imagine it has human qualities - and that sights such as singing and dancing trees are entirely possible. Sounds crazy, but this is where my imagination goes, especially in the spring. Maybe yours does too! Like in this verse:

    "For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Isaiah 55:12

    I'd like to measure the expansion of my soul. Just to see if there's been any change. Whether there is every day growth - small signs that parts of me are bursting forth and expanding. But the hard thing about measurement is that I may just fear that I'm not enough - that I'm not growing enough, not stretching enough, not enough. Which isn't a great place to be.

    So I want to be like the trees with their every day growth and seasons of rest, all the while leaning in to the grace that's out there for me to grab onto. Every day, grace-filled growth and rest.

    Monday, 16 May 2011

    sharing the faith

    The other day, I looked out our front window, and this is what I saw:
    you'll have to just imagine their animated faces :)
    2 women, well-dressed with Bibles and pamphlets in hand, engaged in a spirited conversation with my neighbour. In a second, I knew they were Jehovah's Witness folk, and that they were trying to convince him (a Hindu) of something related to faith.

    I've never been comfortable sharing my faith in such open (and uninvited?) ways. I took a year off after high school to spend time with a mission organization. I met a lot of great people, but the philosophy/mission was much different than my own. Evangelism was expected, and not just by our actions - using words to convince.

    We were given several options of places where we could do the outreach portion of our time (for one month). I chose Morocco because we weren't allowed to do street evangelism there. We worked at an orphanage in Casablanca, and were told NOT to share our faith. I could gladly abide by these rules.

    I'm not a marketer at the best of times, and selling my faith? I just can't seem to do it any other way than through my actions.

    And door to door? Have you ever sold something door to door? Well, not me - not chocolate bars, magazine fundraisers, and certainly not my faith. And so I wonder: is my faith not strong enough? Do I not think there's a message worth sharing?

    I heard this quote while studying at university, and it rang true for me. I still love it:
    "Real religion does not give us final answers. It makes us ask better questions."  David Tracey, Catholic theologian
    I do think that there is a message worth sharing, and I'm happy to try to put into words what I believe - when people ask.

    And I'm happy to hear about others' faith - even (and sometimes especially!) if it is wildly different than my own. I love to engage in interfaith dialogue, and share faith in a kindergarten sense of the word - I give some to you, you give some to me. We share. Your faith influences, builds up, strengthens, and challenges, mine. And even changes me. And I hope to do the same for you.

    Saturday, 14 May 2011

    5 minutes in a coffin

    I was listening to this episode of Dispatches on CBC radio where they talked about the alarmingly high suicide rates in South Korea. One company is trying to combat this trend by staging mock funerals for its clients. The idea was that if you imagine you're dead, you'll have more reason to live.

    It's an interesting idea. Each employee had a photo taken, then placed onto a coffin. They were to write their own eulogies - for some, this was a very moving assignment.

    But here was the kicker - as part of this course, the participants spent 5 MINUTES IN A CLOSED COFFIN. It was a time to be quiet and to reflect, to spend some quality time alone.

    And it made me wonder:

    • what would I think about during those 5 minutes?
    • would I come out a changed person, even in a small way?
    • would I have a renewed sense of purpose, of why I'm here on this earth?
    • if I was thinking of dying, would it make me want to live?
    For the group featured, it seemed to be a moving experience. People emerged - hugging, laughing, and relieved. One man said he was lazy in his normal life and now wanted to push himself in new ways.

    This blog was one of my goals/dreams for this year - to push myself in a new way. I don't have big goals like climbing Mount Everest, but even the small ones seem to take some courage and persistence.

    Here are some other goals/dreams of mine:
    • to sleep on a tropical beach and not worry about crabs
    • to be fluent in French (I vowed not to marry until I was fluent in French, but that vow was broken in favour of another one)
    • to some day, somehow be done sorting through the boxes of crap in our basement
    • to get my wedding photos into an album before I'm 50
    • to show love daily
    • to be and become my self
    A favourite quote by Mother Teresa:

    "Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. 
    Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal."

    Do you have a wish list of things you want to do? New ways you want to expand/push yourself?

    Friday, 13 May 2011

    lessons from France

    It's been exactly one year since we boarded a plane to return home from our sabbatical in France - on May 13, 2010. Even though we spent 4 short months there, several big life lessons (and some not-so-big) have continued to challenge us since our return. Here's my list of lessons from this time:

    1. Nice boots and scarves can spruce up any outfit.
    2. Hot drinks are best consumed from real mugs while sitting and visiting with others.
    3. Seize the day! We love day trips where we've learned a bit about the area, and want to learn more about our local history in Canada.
    on a Swiss day trip to the Chateau de Chillon
    on an Ontario day trip to Crawford Lake
    (we LOVE this place!)
    4. Did your Mom ever say, "It's not a fashion show"? Well, in some parts of this world, it definitely is.
    5. It is a very, very good feeling to be warmly welcomed to a new area.
    6. We like the Canadian education system.
    7. Long, relaxed meals are a wonderful thing. So is cheese for dessert.
    cheese dessert plate
    8. It's perfectly OK to stumble around in a language that's not your mother tongue.
    9. It is good to slow down and rest.
    10. Time away from internet and TV can be very productive.
    11. Public transportation is a very good thing, especially when it is reliable, efficient, and Swiss.
    playing on the dinosaur slide on
    a Swiss train
    12. Meeting more than once a week with a faith community/friends is a good thing.
    13. It's refreshing to not be able to go Sunday shopping.
    14. It is definitely worth it to buy quality chocolate and cheese.

    sampling chocolates at the
    Cailler chocolate factory
    And you? Any life lessons you'd like to add to the list?

    right here. right now.

    Do you ever get tired of hearing that we should "live in the moment"? I feel like I hear it all the time, but it's a message that I need to hear because I haven't quite yet learned to master that art.

    I watched this youtube clip about mindfulness:

    and I wondered why Buddhism gets all the credit for the "living in the moment" philosophy. For me, it's very much part of the Christian message too, but one I often don't pay attention to. It's what I imagine Jesus to be like - living in the moment. And many hermits, monks, and nuns have writings that indicate this importance as well.

    But I'd like to believe that it's attainable right here. Right now. Not just on a quiet spiritual retreat or secluded monastery, but in the thick of a full life - of lists and laundry and household chores and deadlines and showing love to others and caring for self.

    How many times does Jesus say, "Don't be afraid"? So many. He must have known our tendency toward worry, toward fear, toward thinking ahead of ourselves, or thinking behind and re-hashing the past. I love these words:
    "DO NOT WORRY about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these." Matthew 6:25-29
    cardinal in our backyard last week
    What a great time of year to look at birds and consider flowers and lessen worry and live right here, right now. I love using the camera to expand the moment - make it last just a little longer, and see details my hurried monkey mind would usually overlook. To be on the lookout for gratitudes instead of potential worries. To connect - to the spirit, to those around me, to me.

    How about you? Do you need reminders to just "be"? How do you practice mindfulness/expanding the moment?

    Tuesday, 10 May 2011


    I was wondering when I started becoming a mom. And I think it might have been right about here:

    watching my own mom mother me, and learning from her what that's all about. I had some practice with my younger siblings, though I'm afraid I would have fit into the "bossy mother" category most of our growing up years. Sorry, sibs. I even practiced changing diapers and wiping bums - good, practical, on-the-job experience.

    As a kindgergarten/Grade One teacher, I had my share of mothering practice. But the kids were generally well behaved at school, and they went home at 3:30 to misbehave for their parents.

    Another phase of motherhood started when I was pregnant in 2003 - wondering, worrying, and waiting for what would come. And in December 2003 - the gift of life: Zoe. Her name means "life" in Greek, and she certainly brought new life. Helped me see the world through different eyes, and burst my heart into a million pieces just watching her tiny perfect body sleep. Her energy and inquiring mind inspires me.

    And then in 2006 - a gift during the hot summer months where earthly paradise abounds: Eden. Her name means "earthly paradise" in Hebrew. She has grown me in countless ways, forced out of the ground like a humid, hothouse flower. Her calm spirit is a balm to my soul.

    Two very different babies, and now children, who have helped me expand in countless ways.

    I'm terribly grateful to my own mom, in ways I'm still just beginning to understand. Words cannot express. She still helps me along the way, as a guide on the side - not wanting to step on my toes, even though I sometimes want her to. I feel like she gave me stable roots and strong wings.

    And my grandmas - I miss you, and am thankful for the ways you taught me to mother. And so many other friends, aunts, a mother-in-law, cousins, countless women who've been my mentors on this journey...

    I'd like to think that I'd be a mother even if I never had kids of my "own." Because who needs to "own" a child anyway? Isn't the whole point to give them a place to grow into the people they're meant to be? Anyone can do that. Doesn't have to be strictly a parenting role. Perhaps we're all in the process of mommyfication - both women and men - of learning to nurture and grow those around us, of encouraging roots to grow deep and wings to fly high.

     And you? Who has taught you to mother/nurture those around you? What experiences made you become more "mommyfied"?

    Saturday, 7 May 2011

    creation cruelty??

    We spent a wonderful few hours at the Waterloo Earth Day celebrations today. Lovely day, perfect weather for planting trees, holding snakes, watching owls and falcons, building birdhouses, eating hotdogs. It was terrific.

    There was, however, a moment that totally caught me off guard. Eden was making a cool bookmark craft. There was a piece of fabric set on the table. She was told to put violet and forsythia flowers onto the fabric, cover them with waxed paper, then hammer the heck out of them. Here's what it looked like when she was done:

    Neat, eh? I'd never seen this craft before. The colours from the flowers and leaves are dyed onto the fabric in neat designs. She was proud, and so was the 3 year old hammering next to her. The 3 year old's mother, on the other hand, was a different story. Here's how that story went:

    3 year old: (hammering away at the flowers, but the waxed paper keeps slipping away on her)
    Craft leader to 3 year old's mom: Do you mind just holding the waxed paper for her?
    3 year old's mom: No, I can't.
    3 year old: (continues to hammer away, waxed paper continues to slide)
    Craft leader to 3 year old's mom: Do you mind helping? If you just hold the paper for her, it'd be much easier.
    3 year old's mom: No, I'm actually against this activity. I don't think it's nature friendly. I think it's actually quite cruel.

    The 3 year old finished her craft and showed it proudly to her mom. Her mom said, "Hm."

    I looked down at the mom's leather shoes. And the plastic container of Huggies disposable wipes in her hand. And the juice box in her other hand. And wondered about the rest of her wardrobe, and the rest of her life. If this craft is considered cruelty, what else was I doing on a daily basis that could fit into this cruel category?

    A few things came to mind quite quickly:

    1. We drive a car at least once a day. This qualifies as cruelty to all of creation because of the fumes and the use of a non-renewable resource.
    2. I wear leather shoes. No idea how those cows were treated, or how environmentally friendly the chemicals used in dying the leather or creating the rubber soles were.
    3. I kill mosquitoes any chance I can get. Ants on the counter top? Them too.
    4. I loathe mice. If I found one in our house, I would find a way to do away with it.
    5. I eat vegetables. Is that being cruel to the vegetable to eat it?
    6. I eat meat. Obviously cruel.

    Where does the cruel line start and where does it end? Seems like a pretty sad life, to see a flower craft as cruel. But maybe I'm wrong. When I think about an average day, I can list more things that are creation cruel than creation care.

    What do you see as creation cruelty? Have you changed anything about your lifestyle to care for creation in better ways?

    Thursday, 5 May 2011

    ironic blessing

    A friend stayed at our house last weekend - someone who's very intentional about nurturing children's spirituality. Our daughters wanted her to do the bedtime routine - stories, prayers, etc. The thing that my daughters loved most (and have asked for ever since) was a blessing that she said to them.

    My friend told me about this, and called it the "Aaronic Blessing." I heard "ironic blessing," was a bit puzzled, and vowed to learn more about what this ironic blessing was.

    So... here it is! The Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26: (spoken by God to Moses, to tell Aaron and his sons the way to bless the Israelite people)

    "The LORD bless you and keep you;
    the LORD make his face to shine upon you,
    and be gracious to you;
    the LORD lift up his countenance upon you,
    and give you peace."

    This is how we've adapted it: "May God bless you and keep you, and may God's face shine upon you and give you peace."

    What a great way to go to sleep, eh? I heard Eden blessing her stuffed bunny with this Aaronic blessing tonight.

    But back to irony and blessings. Have you ever felt ironically blessed? Situational irony is when actions taken result in an effect exactly opposite from what was intended. A friend of mine was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS years ago. She called this a blessing - a second chance to change her life. I've heard of others who talk of hardship in their lives as a blessing. I hope that I will have the strength to see my own hardships as ironic blessings when they come. The kind of super-faith that can still give thanks even in the midst of despair.

    But what would a profound reflection on irony be without Alanis Morissette?

    I'm a bit hard-pressed to find examples of irony in this song, though. "Rain on a wedding day"? It's actually an Irish blessing (I know, because it rained on my wedding day). Maybe that's Alanis' version of an ironic blessing. Most of her other examples just seem like unfortunate circumstances. Not really ironic. "A traffic jam when you're already late"? Bad luck. "A no smoking sign on your cigarette break"? Too bad for you. "10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife"? Sucks, eh? "Meeting the man of your dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife"? Bad timing, but perhaps an ironic blessing in disguise.

    a proposed way of indicating irony,
    called the "irony mark"
    ¡¿Who knew?!