Friday, 29 July 2011

rain down lemons

When life gives me lemons, I look to my kids for inspiration. For the wisdom to dance in the rain.

catching raindrops on her tongue
 - the rain has FINALLY come!

The above photo was taken in Cinque Terre, Italy, in the spring of 2010. Our hopes of hiking from charming seaside village to village were dashed with relentless rain that lasted most of the day. We were sopping wet, waiting at the train station to go back to our house. And the adults in the bunch were more than a little disappointed. But Eden found such joy, even while soaked, in catching the raindrops in her mouth and dancing around. She knew the secret of dancing in the rain.

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. . . 
it is about learning to dance in the rain."  
~ Author unknown

Speaking of lemons, here's a great lemonade recipe:

Sun Tea (part 1)

3 black tea bags
1 mint tea bag
large glass bowl or jar
8-10 cups of water

1. Pour water into glass bowl/jar.
2. Drop in tea bags.
3. Cover.
4. Place in the sun for at least 3 hours until golden reddish-brown in colour.

Lemonade (part 2)

2 lemons, sliced
1 orange, sliced
3/4 cup sugar

1. Slice lemons and orange.
2. Place in large juice pitcher.
3. Scoop out sugar and pour over fruit.
4. Mash together until syrupy.
5. Add ice cubes.
6. Fill jug with water.
7. Refrigerate until sun tea is ready.

Refreshment time (part 3)

1. Add 1/4 cup sugar to sun tea. Stir until dissolved.
2. Pour equal parts sun tea and lemonade into a glass.
3. Add a few ice cubes and fresh mint. Enjoy!

One of my favourite songs right now is "Storm Comin'" by The Wailin' Jennys. There is no interesting video to watch here, just the music to listen to:

storm coming across Lake Nipissing

Happy weekend! We're off to camp (where my husband and I met and worked as counselors) for a long weekend. I'll be back here on Wednesday, August (!) 3rd, all going well. May you embrace the storms (and sun) that come your way.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

giant bubbles

If you've never tried these giant bubbles, you just MUST before the summer's out. They are mesmerizing and so much fun.

My mom made a big batch of the solution for a family reunion, but you can make it in small batches too.

Magic Bubble Solution

Small recipe:

1/2 cup Dawn dish soap
2 1/2 cups water
1 T glycerin (you can find this at a drug store)
1 1/2 t sugar

Place all the ingredients into a container. Stir well. 

Crowd recipe:

4 cups dish soap
20 cups water
1/2 cup glycerin
1/4 cup sugar

Put it in a pail and stir well.

You can get the giant wands - the plastic version - at some toy stores. You can also make your own.

Giant Bubble Wands

  • 3/8" dowel
  • 2 washers, approx. 2" diameter
  • 4 feet of cording that has a bit of a weave to it (to absorb more bubble solution)
  • duct tape 
1. After cutting your cording, measure down about 12 inches and make a loop. Put the loop through one washer, bend the loop back over the ring, then pull both ends of the cording through the loop so it's snug.

2. Slide this washer onto the dowel.

3. Put the second washer onto the long end of the cording.

4. Bring both ends of yarn together and line them up with the end of the dowel. Use a piece of duct tape to secure these ends onto the dowel. Feel free to use several pieces to make a bulky end so that the washer on the dowel doesn't easily slide off.

Then dip the wand into the solution. Lift the wand. When you lean it back, the ring will slide towards you. This will make a V-shaped loop of yarn. Slowly move your arm to create a giant bubble. To close the bubble off, slide the washer that is on the dowel towards the duct tape end. Or try to make the longest bubble you can before it breaks (or someone breaks it). Have fun!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

germ alert

Here's one thing I've learned lately: don't bring an excited 4 year old into a bulk food store. Or else be willing to live with a germ catastrophe.

Before my daughter's birthday party, we went to the Bulk Barn to load up on Bazooka bubblegum and some gummy candies for her candy kebobs. We couldn't pass by the bubblegum bin without her getting one piece for each of her guests. She dug in her hands, counting out each wrapped piece. I thought: no big deal. The candy's wrapped, but out of the corner of my eye I spied a woman scowling at us.

We headed for the gummy aisle, and this daughter was in heaven. We were having a marvelous time perusing all the gummy worms, bears, butterflies, soda bottles, strawberries, feet, frogs, dolphins, and more. And then her hands just flew into one of those bins, grabbing and counting them out for the kebobs. Before I could guide her toward the supplied tongs, the scowling woman came over and loudly declared, "That is just GROSS. I saw her over by the bubblegum and I didn't say anything. But she should use a plastic bag over her hand. See?" She showed me the right way to shop at Bulk Barn. And that just burst my bubble.

And the awfully judgmental devil in me wanted to shout out, "Do you KNOW how many germ violations I observed in YOUR country of origin? Countless!" I know. Shocking thoughts. But because I'm a relatively kind person on the outside, I kept these keen observations to myself. I explained that my 4 year old daughter was just a wee bit excited about her birthday party, and that I would try to help her to be more hygienic for the remainder of our shopping trip.

I knew she was right - that we should try to keep our germs to ourselves whenever possible, but I wondered what she was doing at the Bulk Barn if she was so worried about germs. It is, after all, called the Bulk BARN - doesn't exactly conjure up images of sterility. Surely there would be other, more hygienically secure places to shop for food. Where things are vacuum packaged up and immune to the unpredictable germs of others.

For the rest of the day, I kept observing germ violations ALL OVER THE PLACE. At the pizza place where we picked up a quick lunch? Straws - just sitting there in a box with no individual protective paper wrappings. As I reached for one, I'm pretty sure my fingers grazed one or two more straws. Germs. There they go!

At a potluck? An open bag of chips. You mean people just stick their hands in there and pull out some chips, not knowing whose hands have been in there? Gross.

And what if children (or adults) have not been taught the "no double dipping" rule? Then any hummus or veggie dip is not immune. A regular germ soup. And fondue? Look out.

On our counter? Fruit flies buzzing around the fruit. Who knows where their feet have been?

[an aside: great way to get rid of fruit flies - put some cider vinegar in a wine glass. Add a drop or two of dish detergent. Do not drink. Welcome the fruit flies to the party. It really works!]

I'm not germ phobic, and I'm happy to be that way. I have a somewhat satisfied, smug feeling when I read reports that claim our environments are too clean and sterile and this is leading to more allergies and sickness. I say: not in my house. My house is definitely not germ-free. And we're hardly ever sick!

But I get it: bare hands in Bulk Barn bins is gross. Use the supplied tongs, Rebecca and children.

If you're germ phobic, avoid these things (and probably many more):
* public bathrooms
* hospitals
* restaurants (who knows where those chef's hands have been)
* potluck meals
* outdoor markets
* kissing
* children

I'll be prepared for our next Bulk Barn experience. Next time we'll put on perfectly sterile rubber gloves before we dig into the candy bins. But wait - what if there are toxins leaching off of those rubber gloves? Apparently vinyl never stops giving off toxic fumes. Do we want toxins in the candy? Or are germs better? And what if my hands touch my gloves as I'm putting them on? Won't there be germs on the gloves then? Is there any way to escape those germs?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

blueberry dye

Wondering about a craft that combines blueberries and bandanas? Well, look no further.

A clever aunt put together a box of cottage fun which included some natural dye experiments. We tried three dyes: blueberry, onion, and beet.

Blueberry dye: Mash 2 cups of blueberries and add about 4 cups warm water. Set in the sun for the morning. Strain and reserve the dark liquid. Dissolve 3/4 cup salt in hot water and add it to the blueberry mixture to help set the dye.

Onion dye: Peel 3 onions. Place the peels in 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Strain the liquid, then add 3/4 cup salt and stir to dissolve.

Beet dye: Chop and soak beets. Cook for about 20 minutes or set in the sun for the morning. Strain the liquid. Dissolve 3/4 cup salt in hot water and add it to the beet liquid.

1. Find white things like bandanas, t-shirt, onesies, underwear, pillow cases, etc.

2. Tie little knots all over the fabric, or use elastic bands to make twists by grabbing a small section of the fabric, twisting it as tightly as possible and then fastening an elastic band tightly around the twist. Make these twists all over the fabric.

3. Dip the little twists or knots into the dye, holding the fabric in the dye for several minutes. The longer it soaks, the darker the dye.

4. Place it in a plastic bag to set overnight.

5. Rinse the fabric the next day, starting with warm water, then cool, until the water runs clear. Remove elastic bands while rinsing.

6. Hang up the fabric to dry.

7. Wash and dry these items separately just in case the dye is not completely rinsed out.

We found that the blueberry one worked best, followed by the onion, then beet. If you've tried other natural dyes, I'm all ears.

Monday, 25 July 2011


I marveled at the persistence of this little finch. For about 1/2 hour, it worked at getting a string off a hook on our back porch. 

I can be persistent like the best of them - just ask my family. And there are times when my persistence pays off. 

Sometimes I have been stupidly persistent. Like when I tried to waterski, pulled a leg muscle, and kept trying for 7 more times that day and 7 more times the next day. Just dumb and stubborn, and resulted in a pulled leg muscle that lasted for a good 7 months afterward. And then when I tried the next summer. And the next. 
pep talk with my encouraging sister-in-law
who makes waterskiing look like a piece of cake
I'm all for "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Or "if you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you are right." When I was a teacher, these are the quotes of the day that I had displayed on the blackboard each morning. Inspirational little quotes meant to encourage and teach the value of persistence. 

Here was my inspirational quote while I tried to get up on those waterskis: "If my parents can do it, I can do it." But even that didn't work for me. 

But sometimes I think I just need to admit it: I'm not destined to be a championship waterskier. Or any type of waterskier. 

Maybe one day this finch will finally snatch this wonderfully long white string to build the best nest ever. And perhaps one year I'll persist again, and miraculously and effortlessly sail across the top of the water on skis. It's good to have dreams, right?

Friday, 22 July 2011

who are you?

Who are you? After the roles and titles and names are all stripped away? Who are you really? How would you define yourself?
The following excerpt is completely stolen. It's taken from Oriah's The Invitation. Same author who wrote The Call, the book that I wrote about in this one word post - my first blog post. A sibling read this at our cottage talent show last week, and its words have stayed with me. So now I'm passing it on and sharing it with you! My favourite words are in purple.
The Invitation
It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
memories of Lake Huron - 2 summers ago
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.
beach toes
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

worry butterflies

My daughter is a worry wart. A regular chip off the old block. Not something I'm proud to pass on - something I'd still love to work on myself.

There is usually some worry on the horizon. Her latest worry? Bringing a lunch to school. She was in a 1/2 day Junior Kindergarten program last year. This year, she will go to a different school AND it will be a full day, every other day program. So she has to bring a lunch. She's met the teacher, knows 2 girls in her class, and her sister will be outside at recess time. But still, the worries are HUGE. And her first day of school is 49 days away.

I have declared that we will not worry all of these next 49 days away. Summer is for fun, not worrying. So I've told her that for each of those 49 days that she does not whine and complain about school things, I'll make a little checkmark on the calendar. For each checkmark, there will be a lunch together (not the most convenient for me, but I can manage it). So, if there are 20 non-whiny days, she will get 20 days when I will eat lunch with her. That seemed to click with her, but we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Bedtime seems to be one of the worst worrying times. We talk about having butterflies in our stomachs, so we thought of the idea of "worry butterflies" (like Guatemalan worry dolls) - butterflies that can decorate her bed and fly away with the worries so that sleep can come more easily. We'll see.

But we'll try to take it one day at a time, enjoying the gifts of today and trying not to stress over what might come. Today we are not bringing a lunch to school. Or tomorrow. Or the next day.

And instead of worrying: pray. Pray with thanksgiving. For today and its many, many gifts.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:7-8

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

something from nothing

It wasn't exactly nothing - it was two 25¢ pillowcases. And pillowcase dresses are definitely not my original idea. But fun and quick. Much more fun than anything on my "to do" list for the week. Sewing and creating something from nothing feels so much more productive than the chores that so quickly become undone.

They've worn them for 2 days straight now, in this 30+ degree summer heat. Perfect for both daytime galavanting and nighttime sleeping. What could be better?

See -- I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:5)

note the dead grass underfoot that needs to be made new

2 little monkeys wearing pillowcases
I love it when the old can become new again. I loved seeing my grandma, mom, and aunts do this. Crafting vintage fabrics into new quilts. Old woolen garments into new rugs. And seeing ingenuity in places where people use what they have to make something new. Pop cans into toys. Plastic bags into sleeping mats or homemade soccer balls.

See, I am making all things new! 

This text from the book of Revelation was one of the themes at the Mennonite Church Canada Kids' Assembly where I volunteered 2 weeks ago. We had a great time dreaming of a new world filled with joy and thousands of kindnesses, and devoid of sorrow. It's so refreshing to hear kids' perspectives about the way the world should or could be. They just seem to make sense.

One kid's dream was of a world where bombs were made of bubblegum. Another wanted everyone to be able to smell fresh flowers. Someone else wanted the rich people to feed the poor and give them a place to sleep at night. Where heaven and earth will meet.

See! I am making all things new.

"Heaven is born on earth in a thousand invisible kindnesses offered every day." 
- Wayne Muller

Today I'm grateful for this new day. Even though it's stinking hot outside.

What something will become of this (so far) nothing day?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

burning pockets

In India, while studying the caste system, I lived in the "untouchable" section of a rural village. The following journal entry includes a spoken and unspoken conversation with a rickshaw driver and his wife (in photo below). While I spoke with them, I had a 100 rupee bill in my pocket (about 2$ Canadian). I've since been reminded of this feeling - where I'm the one with burning pockets, with money available, while someone else is not. What's my responsibility? 

It makes me uncomfortable to feel privileged.

We speak indirectly; I ask surface questions, you answer. 

You talk of money, of an income ranging from nothing to 50 rupees a day
You have 4 children, rickshaw rent of 10 rupees a day, barely enough food, an addiction to alcohol, and frequent problems with the police...

Do you KNOW that I stand beside you with 100 rupees in my pocket? burning a hole, I’m uncomfortable, hot, angry, helpless, tempted to hand it to you, absolve myself of guilt...

But you’re not alone, so many like you
I’m not alone, too many like me
palms sweating, 
mind aching, 
dollar bill 

to whom? for what purpose?

I ask him how many years has he done this?
20 or so but SHE answers: what can I do?
What can I do? I reply

our silent conversation screams and me, deafened by her pain, incredulous at the strength in her face

Yes, I’ll drink your tea. My filled stomach receives your food, your hospitality.
You have power, I tell her. You know how to survive. 
You have a kind of courage that I haven’t yet learned.

Yes, but how long? she replies. For what purpose?

Monday, 18 July 2011

the up side of down

The up side of having a smoke fire in your kitchen is that you get to have someone else (actually, a whole team of people) clean your kitchen. These cleaning fairies (apparently cigarette-smoking fairies, from the evidence on our driveway) made our kitchen look brand new. I even love to do dishes in it right now - that's how much I love it.

I wouldn't advise having a smoke fire as a method of cleaning or de-cluttering your home, but that's what it's done for me. This smoke cloud's silver lining is that some wonderful cleaners (thank goodness for house insurance) came while we were gone to the cottage and thoroughly wiped down and cleaned our kitchen and main floor bathroom - every nook and cranny. I'm still finding marvelously clean areas, and it delights me each time I do.

The ceiling fan? There really was a fan under all that dust.

The kitchen and bathroom sinks? Gleaming.

The stove drawer where I was avoiding some mouse poo for an embarrassingly long time? Spotless. (I know, disgusting.)

The kitchen floor is just beaming. It makes me not want to really live in this space - it's so clean. More clean than I ever thought possible.

Every drawer and cupboard is a surprise - because of the cleanliness, but also because everything is all over the place. It will take me awhile to figure out where everything is, and where it's supposed to go. But some things are in new locations that actually might be better than their previous homes. And some of the stuff I think "why do I still have this?" so it's an opportunity to toss and make more room. And I'm a bit embarrassed to think of other people going through some of this stuff - treasures once upon a time - and that makes me want to toss stuff too. I keep thinking that it really must have been satisfying for them to clean the kitchen - they would have seen such progress from their work.

And as 3 machines continue to work to churn positive ions into our air, I'll continue on my purging journey to banish the bothersome, clutterful stuff from our kitchen. One room at a time. I think I can, I think I can...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

sabbatical resting

Well, I talk a good game about resting and and stopping and taking a sabbath. And there are times when I just have to practice what I preach. So as of tomorrow, I'm starting a blogging sabbatical until July 18th.

I enjoy this space, and will be excited to be back on the 18th - same time (6:00 am EST), same place. Bringing you shots of inspiration or half-baked thoughts or everyday musings. Until then, happy summer!

Monday, 4 July 2011

how to plan a kid party in 2 days

I wrote a chapter for this book about celebrations. I said that I longed for celebrations that were special, but simple. Two things that often oppose each other. It's something I strive for, but I often get lost in the details. I do enjoy planning kids parties - give me a theme, and I'll run with it. But they can soon feel overwhelming - particularly on the day of the party.

Having one daughter's birthday in July and the other one close to Christmas means 2 holiday birthdays. So some years the planning is better than others. This year was not so stellar. On Thursday morning I realized that we need to have a party now (like in 2 days) or not again until well after the birthday, because of holiday schedules. So I decided on now. I sent out some emails, got a critical mass (4 guests), and went for it. It would be a simple, but special, 5th birthday party.

Theme: Bugs (she picked this theme in December, so I'd had half a year to collect some themed items)

This is about the 6th kid birthday party I've planned, and I'm getting better at it and growing more wise. Here are a few of the things I've learned:

1. Do not even dare to imagine the perfect party. It will be a party. Period.

2. Have high expectations of meltdowns. Expect someone to cry or throw a tantrum. If it doesn't happen, great! You're well ahead of your expectations then.

3. Make up versions of duck, duck, goose while you stand in line for groceries. Ladybug, ladybug, mosquito? Perfect.

4. Do not clean the house. It will be a mess afterward. There will be pee around the floor of the toilet, grass on the carpet, and spilled juice.

5. Don't serve juice, serve water. And candy sushi.

6. Involve the birthday girl in the planning. This is half (or most?) of the fun - the anticipation. Planning the games + crafts, making the candy kebob favours, passing out invitations - this is rich.

7. Put things on a stick: fruit kebobs, sandwich kebobs, and candy kebobs. Anything tastes better on a stick.

Fruit kebobs: chocolate dipped strawberries, pineapple, melon, grapes, other fruits...

Sandwich kebobs: cheddar cheese cubes, bocconcini balls of cheese, baguette chunks, olives, pepper chunks, cherry tomatoes

Candy kebobs: gummy candies, marshmallow candies, fruit roll-ups (for the nutritional factor), and any other candies that can be shoved onto a stick

8. No presents from friends. This has become a rule at our house, which seems quite dictatorial, I realize. They get gifts from us and from other family members, and that seems like plenty. I read somewhere that kids should be involved in the decision of whether their friends bring gifts. Well, not in this house. Remember the weird parent post? Well, here's another example of something my kids just might have to see a therapist for when they're older.

We've tried it both ways - gifts and no gifts. And after those little experiments, I'm inspired by this friend and I say, "This is how we do it in our family. If you want a party, that's the present." Then we decide on what we'll collect for - sometimes it's been hats and mitts (December birthday) and sometimes it's been soap bars or school kits.
one of the soap towers
9. Invite the age of your child (if your daughter's 5, invite 5 guests). Keeps it from being too crazy for me and too overwhelming for the birthday girl.

10. Make a kick-butt cake (or commission someone to do it). This is where simple goes out the window for me. And just for fun, I'll brag about some of my favourites that I've made:

the solar system

11. Take a deep breath. Welcome chaos.

12. Let her be a princess - if only for 2 hours.

Friday, 1 July 2011

pass it on

After sharing our home for not even a week, and catching some very tiny glimpses into what one young girl's experiences were growing up in Afghanistan, I am deeply grateful for all that I have. For the freedom I enjoy in Canada, to live without fear, to dream, and to grow my own family. And sometimes I feel guilty - why was I born here and not somewhere else?

But in my better moments, this is what I believe: I've been blessed (for no good reason, just luck), so I'll be a blessing.

I'll pass it on.
Happy Canada Day/long weekend!