Thursday, 29 September 2011

discovering ourselves

"We shall never truly know ourselves unless we find people who can listen, who can enable us to emerge, to come out of ourselves, to discover who we are. 
We cannot discover ourselves by ourselves." - Edward Farrell

a blur of discovery

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

spinning a web

I just have to say more about this spider I watched during my walk on Monday. And what that spider is teaching me. Crazy, eh?

Can you see the spider in the middle of the photo, and the web strings around it?

It rained really hard on Monday night, and in the morning, I wondered what happened to that little web. Because it's so fragile. I love storms when I'm cozy inside my home, but when I'm driving or walking? Not so much. 

I'm sure that webhome would have been damaged from the wind and rain, if not obliterated altogether. But was that spider worried? I'd like to think not. I imagine she'd had a nice insect supper, and took shelter under some leaves for the night. Then in the morning, when the sun came out, perhaps she started all over again, unperturbed that her work had been destroyed. Spinning because that's just what she does. Because it's her sustenance. It's her purpose. And how does she walk around on that thing without stumbling and falling through? Instinctively, she knows how to build. And then she just keeps going, one step at a time. 

This is what I want. To know that each day I have all I need to survive, and even to thrive. To swing and sway with the wind, take shelter during the storms, then start all over again, repairing, creating, weaving. And then take one step at a time. And then suck the blood out of anything that bugs me. Just kidding on that last part. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

glimpses of fall

I do love fall. The crisp mornings, the warm sun, and the colour. I think it's my favourite time of year to go for a walk.

So yesterday I went to one of my favourite walking spots - where I remember walking with my grandparents - the Mill Race in St. Jacobs. Feels like a little bit of home to me.

This little muskrat was my traveling companion for a piece of the walk - him swimming, me walking. He didn't seem to mind my presence, and I was delighted by his. I could walk at a comfortable pace, keeping stride with his little legs in the water.

stopping to wash his face and paws
busy Mrs. Spider
It honestly makes me catch my breath - all of this changing and beauty around me. And to watch this spider spinning this delicate web it makes me think that all of my September spinning that has seemed futile and fragile might actually be worthwhile and even beautiful.

Monday, 26 September 2011

15 minutes a day

Two daughters in our household are taking piano lessons. One is taking violin. Their teachers have said that they will make good progress by practicing for 15 minutes a day.

It's got me thinking about practices I have, and whether I devote 15 minutes a day to them.

Writing - yes. But not on weekends.
Exercising - yes, usually. But I didn't yesterday, or even the day before yesterday. So I guess I'm not too consistent.
Prayer - no, not usually. Sometimes not even 5 minutes a day.

I find it a challenge to decide which extracurricular activities we'll participate in as a family. I don't want to overload my kids (or myself) with too much. And I want to think about why we're doing what we're doing, not just pile on more just so that our kids can experience every single possible activity. I feel like swimming lessons are a no-brainer. We're around so many lakes in Canada that I want my kids to be able to swim well. Music's important to me too. I want my kids to enjoy music and be able to play something for their own enjoyment. Beyond that, I'm not set on anything. But there are times when I feel like I'm a bit of a negligent parent if my kids can't skate as well as others their age.

I'm trying to define what skills/experiences I feel are important for my children. And then we can devote time to it.

For instance, I think that their spiritual/faith development is important. And I try to devote time to this each day. But 15 minutes? Sometimes, but other times - no.

What were you glad that your parents passed on to you? What things did you do for 15 minutes a day as a kid? What things do you practice now?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday fondue

We have created a little tradition at our house over the past few years: to have a "first week fondue" to celebrate the end of the first week of school. But really, any Friday is cause for celebration. And cause for fun,  French-inspired foods.

We have a cheese fondue, followed by a chocolate one. Chocolate is the favourite, hands down.

Our fondue recipes are embarrassingly simple (and might just make a few frenchmen/women squirm). 

Cheese fondue: buy a pre-made fondue package from the cheese deli (we like the Presidents' Choice one  at Zehr's - we also bought these often in France). There are lots of great recipes from scratch, I'm sure, but we like the taste of this kind. Melt it down. Eat with cubes of cut up baguette and pickles on the side. Some sliced meat, pickled onions, and olives too if you're really feeling fancy. 

Chocolate fondue: Get a humongous chocolate bar (we like the Presidents' Choice one at Zehr's - 300 g bar). I use a whole milk chocolate bar and half of an extra dark one. Break it in chunks and melt it on low in a pot on the stove. When it's all melted down, it's not creamy enough for me, so I just add some milk - maybe 1/4 cup - maybe more, but add a little at first and then add more if you need to. The chocolate kind of curdles or something at this step, but just use a whisk and keep stirring it, and adding a little more milk if needed and it should come out nice and smooth. Then dip whatever fruits you like! We like to dip pretzels too.

Happy weekend to you! First on my list this weekend: rest.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

airport fun

I've spent some time in airports the last few days - about 3 hours in the Toronto airport, and about 3 hours in the Chicago airport. For lack of a better hobby while waiting, I looked at the people sitting around me in the waiting room area. This is what I saw, in order of people sitting in that long row: knitting, looking at iphone, working on computer, talking on cell phone, checking Blackberry, sitting and staring, working on computer, talking!, talking!, doing something on ipad, reading book, looking around, reading newspaper, something on ipad, talking on cell phone, checking Blackberry. 

I also had time to do some comparing of the two airports. Who knew that waiting in airports could be so much fun! Here's what I noticed:

Toronto: free wireless internet
Chicago: not free - $6.95 per hour

Toronto: free wireless internet, automatic flush
Chicago: automatic flush, plastic that comes around and re-covers the seat every time you wave your hand over the back of the toilet 

Chicago airport toilet

Toronto airport toilet
Which would you rather have - a super clean plastic-wrapped toilet, or free wifi in the bathroom?


Toronto: nothing obvious
Chicago: Every 10 minutes or so, there was an announcement that went like this, "To minimize the spread of germs, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently after you cough or sneeze." 


Toronto: walked right through a metal-detector-type-doorway, kept all my clothes on
Chicago: walked into an x-ray booth, held hands above head for 7 seconds, asked to take watch and belt and shirt off (so that I was just wearing a tank top, which I had underneath the shirt), felt up by security agent. And I wondered: what did they see on that x-ray? Wasn't it pretty apparent that I wasn't a threat? I don’t know why you don’t just get your own change room where you strip down in front of an x-ray machine while some security agent is watching just to make absolutely sure that you’re not hiding anything. That would feel equally invasive. And just as safe. I just get annoyed with something’s that supposed to improve security but instead it just makes you feel invaded and worried. But maybe that’s just me. I want my plane ride to be safe. It just makes me wonder if there are other means to the same end. Kind of reminds me of grade school, where the whole class was given a detention and had to stay in for recess when just 2 people were talking. Communal punishment for the crimes of a few.

It made me think about what makes me feel safe. 

Safe: home, Derek, walking in the woods (even at night, as long as I know the woods), sleeping in a tent, going to sleep in my bed, holding my kids’ hands, walking in the door after a long drive, Disney World (I know – pathetic.), singing songs, being at church, being with family, the smell of fresh baking, sitting in a car even when I don't have my seatbelt on, being in front of a group of children

Not safe: small and rattly planes, airport security, driving on snowy or icy roads, being around someone who is too loud or too drunk, when I’m very lost like on some back alley in Buffalo, guns, catcalls in a language I can’t understand, walking alone as a woman in Casablanca, the smell of alcohol breath mixed with cigarette breath, driving by myself in a city I don't know, biking in India, driving in Morocco in the mountains, seeing soldiers or anyone in uniform, hospitals, maggots

Better catch my plane now.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

shades of darkness

I was hanging out with a wonderful 2 year old the other evening. We were walking down the street, and he was talking about the different shades of darkness. He had a name for each shade. The only one I can remember is "gala dark" which was the blackest dark. There was a purple shade of dark, a pink shade, and a blue shade, and possibly more shades that I'm forgetting.

I was floored that this little one could distinguish between these shades in the evening and night sky, and that he had the idea to name them.

My sister and I took a photography course several years ago where we learned to develop photos in a darkroom. There is something terribly magical about playing with light and watching a photo appear in the dark, right before your eyes in the developing solution. Experimenting with timing and exposure to light can drastically change a photo - the contrast between light and dark, and the shades of each one.

Today I heard two verses that talked about darkness. "If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,' even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you." Psalm 139:11-12

I sometimes think in these terms: darkness = bad, light = good. But this little guy had me appreciating the darkness. And I wondered - where do people get a fear of the dark? Because it really is beautiful. And restful. And now I'll notice that there are many shades. Wonderful when 2 year olds can be our teachers.

beautiful creatures in the dark depths of the ocean

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

something will come

A friend emailed me this poem the other day that I absolutely love. There's something about it that's just so hopeful. Here it is:


by Jim Wayne Miller

Get up early
Sit drinking the dark
like coffee
Wait. Expect nothing.

will come.
like your newspaper
plopping onto the porch.

Something with your name on it--
like a letter
slipped under your door.

Something you forgot you wrote away for
arrives now
like a package delivered as darkness thins.

Sign for it.

Monday, 19 September 2011

get outside

at Laurel Creek Conservation Area
There is nothing better than an almost-fall day. Cool morning, warm noon, capris or skirt with sweater on top. Colours starting to change in the trees. Lovely.

Getting outside is so good for me. It helps me get out of my mind, which is a very good thing.

Mr. Twisty tree at Crawford Lake Conservation Area
rocky forest at Crawford Lake
"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles." 
- Anne Frank, February 23, 1944

Friday, 16 September 2011

taking flight

There is something about butterflies starting their long migration to Mexico and my youngest daughter going to Kindergarten that connect for me.

When we released our 3 butterflies this year, there was a mix of joy and sadness and great hope. And a prayer. Because Mexico's a long way off. A lot could happen on that journey.

And then I look at Eden. Her road ahead is unknown too, but these first days in a new school feel very big and daunting and there are some tears.

Release. And flight. And the journey ahead.

I send Eden off, knowing that this is just a tiny part of her journey - one that will hopefully be long and successful. God willing. Some days I pretend to squish her down to baby size so that she won't grow any bigger. But I can't shrink her, or stunt her growth, any more than I can stuff that butterfly back into its broken chrysalis.

Whenever I see a monarch these days, I say a little prayer. For my hands to open in release, and not hold onto what was. For a safe journey. For courage to face the unknown. And for her to always know where home is, and migrate back sooner than I even realize.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


I am tired.

I mentioned last week how September can just knock the wind right out of me, and it's still kicking my butt. The score is: September - 15; Rebecca - 0. I'm ready to sleep by 5 pm.

But my solace in these busy days have been the clouds. And remembering to notice and enjoy them, even if for just a moment.

I thank you God for this most amazing day, 
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, 
and for the blue dream of sky 
and for everything which is natural, 
which is infinite, 
which is yes.  
~e.e. cummings

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.  
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

you matter

In Living a Life That Matters, Harold S. Kushner writes about two longings for which our souls yearn:

1. to be good
2. to matter / be important / make a difference

He talks about our need to know that we are valued and important. That the world takes us seriously. That we are deeply loved.

It made me think about what makes me feel like I'm good, or that I matter, or am important, or that I'm making a difference.

Derek and I are so old-fashioned and stubborn that we don't use a cell phone. We had one during the baby years, but we haven't used one for a few years now. We're thinking of getting a plan, but here's one of my biggest fears about cell phones: that they will make me think I'm important based on the number of calls/texts/vibrations I get. And while connections are a great way to feel important and loved, I don't want to become addicted to a little machine that will tell me that. But we shall see. Sometimes it seems irresponsible to NOT have a cell phone.

But I digress. I think that I feel most important, and that I matter, because of the relationships I cultivate. Because of the love that is shared. And I hope that I'm doing that every day - feeling and giving love freely to others around me.

"If a person has known love, has felt and given love, 
that person's life has made a difference." 
- Harold Kushner

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


I've been thinking a lot lately about gratitude. How those 2 little words - THANK and YOU - are so sweet to my ears when they're spoken in genuine ways.

Do I do things just to be thanked? I'd like to say no, but I know that I like to be acknowledged and appreciated. Those 2 words just seem like they're easy to say.

I appreciate politeness - I'll even go so far as to say that I expect it. And that I'm shocked when it doesn't come. Here are 2 instances where I expect politeness, and a little "thank you."

1. DRIVING. When I slow down to let someone in front of me, I expect a little hand wave in return. When I don't get one, I make sure that I do a big hand wave while loudly saying "YOU'RE WELCOME!" to the driver that hopefully s/he sees in the rearview mirror and remembers "oh ya! I should have said thank you!"

2. HOLDING A DOOR OPEN. I hold doors open for others, and love to hear a little "thank you" in return. When it doesn't happen, I sometimes say "YOU'RE WELCOME" in a loud enough voice so that the ungrateful person thinks "oh ya! Maybe I should have said thank you!" Or, when someone doesn't hold the door open for me, I say "THANK YOU" in a loud enough voice so that the non-holding-door-open-person thinks "oh ya! Maybe I should have held that door open instead of letting it slam in her face."

Am I proud of these 2 examples? Not at all. Definitely part of my darker side - this shaming method of eliciting "thank you's" and not-so-genuine courtesies from total strangers.

I also like to be thanked by family members for the stuff I do for them. Am I just really needy? Perhaps.

I want to teach my kids gratitude. To say "thank you" to others. To write thank you cards. To be grateful for what they have. To thank people who do them favours - like driving them here or there, and taking time out of their days. Saying thank you is just like building a small little bridge to that other person - a bridge of goodwill that makes them want to cross over again.

But do I ask my kids, "What do you say?" to get them to say thank you? (Said in a sing-songy way, with the word "say" stretching out for 2 syllables in a up-down sort of way.) (I hate asking this, but sometimes I feel I should when the thank you's aren't forthcoming.) I know they hate to be reminded to say thank you, and I know I sound stupid reminding them. Lately I've been waiting and waiting and waiting, and usually they do come through with those 2 little words, sometimes in very very quiet voices, but still there. Phew. I'm not raising total hellians (yet).

I've read that for some people, expressing gratitude was life-changing. Keeping a gratitude journal and tracking the many blessings even amidst the muck of life turned their world around. I think that by expressing gratitude to God, we can learn to be grateful to others too. When we practice noticing the little gifts around us, we can also see the ways that others "gift" us during our days. Gratitude prayers we try to do around here include:

* pray at the end of the day using the "glad, sad, sorry" prompts. Glad = gratitude.

* pray at mealtimes, thanking God for specific things in our day.
* pray before meals, thanking God for our food. Eating good food every day is something I don't want my kids to take for granted.

* pray in the morning, thanking God for a new day of surprises.

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say "thank you?"  ~William A. Ward

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. 
 ~Meister Eckhart

There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed.  
If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.  
~Robert Brault

You say grace before meals.  All right.  
But I say grace before the concert and the opera, 
and grace before the play and pantomime, 
and grace before I open a book, 
and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.  
~G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 11 September 2011

open doors of understanding

I've been thinking a lot about what was happening 10 years ago - perhaps you have been too. I remember where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was welcoming children to my classroom where I taught kindergarten/grade one. A child's parent told me what had just happened. Then my sister came to my classroom, and was worried about our brother who was living and working in Manhattan at the time.

In the following months, my class of students responded in various ways. Those little ones had heard too much of the story, and had lots of questions. How do we respond in helpful ways, to break the fear and lead with hope? We helped to knot a quilt that MCC would send to Afghanistan. We sent little envelopes of rice to our Prime Minister, asking him to send food, not bombs. The children in my class wrote eloquent, moving letters, pleading for peace.

Because that's what we all dream of, right? Peace in our time.

Those months after 9/11 were hard on my brother in Manhattan. And I don't think there's any sense we can make of what happened. But we can find a way forward. And this is how he has inspired me: last year, he hosted an Afghan teenager for a year. I was so inspired that now our family is doing the same. What better way to do interfaith sharing than to live with someone! Her story is vastly different than ours; so many things are different - her faith, culture, background. But we're discovering similarities too. Like loving families who gather weekly. Like the support that a life of prayer can be. Like a curiosity and willingness to learn about each other's traditions and cultures.

Even before 9/11, I was interested in interfaith dialogue. In opening doors of understanding, instead of living in fear and ignorance and mistrust.

I have hope that things can change for the better. I don't want my children to fear someone who has a different faith. I want them to love her like she's their own sister. And that's what I see happening under my own roof, and I'm so very grateful.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

hits me like a ton of bricks

Here are some things that can hit me like a ton of bricks and make my mind reel:

1. September. It's only been 7 days so far, but already I've messed up and triple-booked one evening. Where are you, dog-days of summer??? I miss you already.

2. That time of the month.

3. Winter. I sigh contentedly as I sip hot chocolate on a cozy evening by the fire, while watching the flakes softly falling. Then the next morning I have to shovel.

4. How big my kids are already. How they teach me so much.

5. Paper. Especially the paper that comes home in September. I'm so proud of myself for throwing so much of it away today - not even wondering if I'll need it someday. Just tossing. I've come a long way. (sometimes)

oh paper, how do I not love thee?
let me count the ways...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

how to not shop

Tip #1: I've discovered something: if I do not go in stores, I do not buy things. I don't consume as much or spend as much. Two very good things - for my home, my mind, and my wallet.

There are many times when stores are unavoidable. But there are other times when stores lure me in - with a sale, with an idea that I'll just go get ONE LITTLE THING - and I come out with a whole bag full. That's how much self-control I have. I can justify many things, especially when I'm shopping solo. Dangerous. Especially when I'm buying things from Mennonite Central Committee thrift stores.

What is it that makes shopping so much fun? It's such a satisfying feeling sometimes to come home with NEW THINGS - or with just something. My mom used to laugh at me because I'd spread out my new possessions on my bed and admire them for a few hours. I still do that.

Why? Is it the pursuit of happiness? That idea that more is better? The hunter-gatherer thing? That little kick, or mini-high you get when you put on new digs? Or see your children in cute clothes? I don't know, but I want to pay more attention to WHY I shop. I'm pretty frugal, but even so, things build up, and I buy way more than what we need. Need is even a funny word in this context. Hardly anything in our house is here because of a real need. It's all wants, piling up boxes and boxes of wants that make me feel good -- until it gets to be too much.

Tip #2: If you MUST go shopping, don't bring your wallet. I've found this is a really effective way to not buy anything. Load up your cart, then have fun putting it all back, knowing that your wallet is safe and so is your home.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


I've had quite a wonderfully boring long weekend, and it's made me think about the gift of boredom. I've had LOTS of time to think. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday included a lot of resting - which is what I needed, but I'm not used to doing this - especially on a weekend in the summer. Especially on the official LAST weekend of the summer.

I usually want to cram as much as I can into our summer months. And I enjoy it - being program director, facilitating and planning fun experiences for the family. I fill up my days so that there isn't any room for boredom.

But a summer cold caught up with me and I lay in bed for a good part of Saturday and just read. And rested. And ate food in bed. And it felt so good. All 3 girls in my house offered to get me food and drinks, and it was just lovely to be served and not rush around and pack up food and clothing and hand snacks to the back seat of the car and say will you stop arguing back there and then come home late and whine all the way to bed and unpack.

In the middle of the day on Saturday, the power went out for about 4 hours, which can make for boring times if you rely on electronics for amusement. But that afternoon, the playmobil figures got a lot of playtime. And we read 5 chapters of Little House on the Prairie. As we searched for flashlights as evening approached, the power came back on. There were cheers all 'round, and we put on High School Musical 2. Because sometimes a movie seems like a huge treat in an otherwise boring weekend. Especially when it comes with popcorn.

When I heard "Mom, I'm bored" this summer, I said, "Great! What an opportunity to use your creativity and imagination." I didn't hear it too many times. But sometimes I crave a tiny bit of boredom, just to rest and not be the fun facilitator. So this Labour Day weekend was a tad boring, but oh so good at the same time.

Do you welcome boredom?

This post is so boring I'm not even including a photo.

Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. 
It is the symbol of his liberty - his excessive freedom. 
He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, 
but almost with pleasure. Aldous Huxley 

Friday, 2 September 2011


emerging from Rebecca Seiling on Vimeo.

One year of life is worth more than twenty years of hibernation. - Anthony de Mello

Thursday, 1 September 2011

chore time

What do I think of when September starts? Chore time. Routines. Organizing ourselves. Starting over again.

When I was growing up, Saturday was chore day. Wake up, do our chores (boys outside to burn garbage and chop wood; girls inside to vacuum and dust), and then have some free time after everything was done. We lived on a farm, so there was always lots to do.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up with two days of rest: Saturday AND Sunday.

So Saturdays at our house now can be something of a mixed bag: me with a list of things I'd like to get done, and him with dreams for some weekend R and R.

Some friends sang a song at our wedding, and I don't remember all of the words, but the idea was something like this: Rebecca would help Derek work, work, work, and Derek would help Rebecca play, play, play. At the time, I thought: really?!? What's that all about?? I can play! I don't need any help in that area! But I was very wrong. Those friends were mighty insightful, and this tension has come up again and again: me wanting to be very productive, him wanting to rest and relax. And we really do need both. But it makes for some messy Saturdays.

I have this dream of everyone in our household taking on some of the household chores. Because here's the thing: some days I get tired of feeling like the maid.

I admire Old Order Mennonites, who seem to have a day for every chore. Monday is laundry day, and if you drive in the country, you can see their lines full on a Monday morning. And I love how Sunday is visiting day, with baked goods made during the week to prepare to host.

In the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett, one maid described her daily chores:

Monday: oil up the furniture [what does this even MEAN?]
Tuesday: wash and iron the damn sheets [I'm quoting here]
Wednesday: scrubbing the bathtub
Thursday: polishing floors, sucking rugs [???]
Friday: heavy cooking for the weekend and what-have-you
Every day: mopping, washing clothes, ironing shirts [???]
Silver and windows: as needed

Inspired by this book, I thought I should buy some silver polish for my tarnished toe ring. Then I'd really feel like I'm doing some deep cleaning. I found this little online tidbit that I'll pass on to you: take a bowl, put aluminum foil inside, put your silver in, sprinkle some baking soda on top, then pour boiling water over it. Watch the magic. It works for bigger silver pieces too. Just FYI.

I resist structure, but I think that this fall I'll be introducing THE CHART. I talked about this to my daughters, and they quickly got on it, crafting their own charts for family sign-up.

The idea is that everyone will sign up for something (at least one thing) each day. Doesn't have to be big, but it gives all of us the sense that each person is contributing.

Here is Eden's version:

Sunday: Do laundry (Rebecca)
Monday: VBS (Eden) [side note: this chart was made during our church's Vacation Bible School]
Tuesday: Play with Fudgie [our guinea pig]
Wednesday: Bake (Eden and Rebecca)
Thursday: Vacuuming
Friday: Clean up (Eden)
Saturday: Potty (Eden)

Zoe's version had everyday things to sign up for: setting table, clearing table, unloading dishwasher, help with supper prep. Then once a week things were: vacuum, bathrooms, dust, mow the lawn. She left spaces under each one for people to sign up.

my keen bathroom cleaner:
they battle over who gets to clean the bathroom!
I have a feeling that the 2 of them will keep on top of things better than I ever have, which is a good thing. Our house is finally in good, capable hands.

How do you do chores at your house?