Friday, 28 October 2011

getting ready for Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en is definitely a favourite holiday in this household. We plan our costumes months in advance, and they usually change at least 3 times. But as of today, we've sorted out what we'll be this October 31st: Raggedy Ann and a dog. These 3 things have been indispensable for me in gathering costumes over the years:

1. thrift stores

2. my mom (who can sew at the last minute)

making a hat for Raggedy Ann
3. face paint

Here's a little memory trail of costumes from other years:
a rainbow
Pippi Longstocking
a cat who wears eye shadow
Well, I'm off this weekend to load up on crappy candy. And you?

P.S. I really would love another tradition besides handing out crappy candy. I don't want to be a scrooge and not hand it out, or not let my children gather it, but really. It's too much. And it's crappy. And it lasts for way too long the way we ration it out.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

changing the story

Thanks to some wise readers' advice yesterday, I took off my watch for the day. Just to see what would happen. I know, radical.

It was a wonderful experiment - one I'll definitely do again. Whenever I checked my bare wrist, I said to myself: "You have enough time for today."

And you know what? I did. I really felt like I did. I felt myself breathing easier. I didn't feel as much like a chicken with its head cut off. I felt more rested. And satisfied with what was accomplished. And for the slower cups of tea that I drank too. When I did check the clock, it was usually much earlier than I predicted, and that felt like a gift. EXTRA time! What a bonus! My mind automatically thought: there isn't enough time. But looking at the clock, I was wrong, and I had much more time than I predicted. So it was good that I wasn't very in sync with the actual time.

I changed the story of my usual day.

Speaking of chickens, here's another story I have running through my head on a regular basis: it's about  the Little Red Hen. She asked for help, nobody came running, and she said, "Then I will do it myself." And she did. Over and over again.

I am the Little Red Hen in my mind. It's a martyr story that I tell myself pretty much daily. There are so many things to do, and I'm the only one that can/will do them. I've asked for help before, but sometimes think I shouldn't have to keep asking. People should just notice things, like I do. This story gets a bit tiring to hear over and over again, especially mixed with the "there's not enough time in the day" story.

Another story that needs changing.

I'm convinced that our thoughts can change our actions, so I want to change some of these not-so-helpful thought patterns. Take those useless broken records out of my mind and toss them in the trash. Yesterday, the bare wrist was a cue to try on another story for my day to expand my sense of time; I wonder what my Little Red Hen cue will be, and what my new story will sound like.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

not enough hours

I've been noticing lately how much I look at my watch. And it bugs me.

And I'm often running late or almost late because I just want to squeeze more more more into the time. And it's never enough.

I wish I could see each day as enough - see time as expansive. Not pack as much in. But I do, do, do. I'm a regular little red hen. I'm a human doing, not a human being.

But I want to rest more. Play more. Look at my watch less. Sigh less. *sigh*

"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why."  - Eddie Cantor

When do I feel that "time is enough" feeling? When I'm visiting with friends or family. Summer camping. Lying under the stars. Walking through the pumpkin patch. Tobogganing down hills of snow. Swimming or canoeing in the lake. Then time is enough.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

living in a world of excess

I know that the whole world isn't full of excessive living, but my part sure is. I'm especially reminded of this when I travel to developing countries, or host guests from those countries.

Having a teenager from Afghanistan come to live with us has made me question some of my spending choices. The whole "is this a need or a want" question just seems laughable at times, because I live so far from my needs. I live in the world of wants - many of which I carefully take the time to justify.

We had friends from Benin come to our house for supper last week. And I went through my usual list of hosting worries: the house is too small, we don't have enough places to sit, the house is too messy, will the food be ok. This is my ritual when hosting people at our place. I worry. But when they come, I have no problem living in the moment and enjoying myself and I wonder why I ever worried. Silly.

But there's one other thing that I'm a bit self-conscious about when hosting these friends: we feed a rodent in our kitchen. Not just human hungry bellies, but a rodent's too. Mind you, this is a furry and lovable guinea pig pet who lives in a cage. But still. It's a rodent. Living in better conditions than many of the world's people. And that makes me more than a little uncomfortable. It makes me wonder what my responsibility is in this whole messy world we live in. Why am I stuffed while others starve?

My husband talks about living in Colombia and being inspired by the people there. No one he encountered asked, "What can we do?" They just jump in and DO something. And they have far fewer resources than I do. So why do I feel helpless sometimes, overwhelmed by the problems, wondering what I can do to help? Why can't I just jump in?

We have this prayer hanging in our kitchen. It's a good reminder of this imbalance in the world:

God, please help the poor get rich and the rich get poor so they know 
what it feels like. 
And then, God, let everyone switch back to medium 
and let everyone have the same amount of food and money. Amen. 
-- Ben Zimmerly Jantzi, 7 years old

Friday, 21 October 2011

something worth fighting for

Our family friend Carol who died on Wednesday was a fighter. She fought lung disease for many years. But she fought other things too - for peace and justice, for oppressed peoples in Central and South America, pushing at the edges of the church, expecting more, questioning. She was inspirational to me - I could listen to her stories for hours. She was a funny, artistic, outside-the-box, creative, political, musical, irreverent, crazy, and deeply spiritual 60-something woman. 

The Irish tell a story of a man who came to the gates of heaven and asked to be let in. 
St. Peter said, "Of course! Just show us your scars."
The man said, "I have no scars."
St. Peter said, "What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?"

The other day, my daughter found this crumpled-up leaf with a dead monarch butterfly on it. I put it on the windowsill today, and thought of Carol and hoped that there is beauty in death - as hard as it may be for the living to see.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

sad news by email

In the last 2 days, I have opened 2 emails which made me sit in front of my computer, alone, staring, crying. The first message was about a loved one who was struggling - near death. The second one last evening was about a loved one who had died. Both dear people to me. Both struggling with illnesses over the past number of years. Both live far from here.

Right away, I needed to call someone on the phone. And tears came easily then too.

I wonder: did they know how much I loved them? Appreciated them? I hope so, think so, but why couldn't I have one more chance?

And it also made me wonder about the medium and the message. About receiving sad news from my computer. Or finding out sad news on facebook about public figures who have died - trying to decipher messages like "RIP Jack" or "You were the best Steve" or "I'll never forget you Michael" - with the help of Google, I piece together the sad stories that make for public facebook mourning.

Ideally, I'd like my sad news to come face to face so that I can get a hug right away. If that's not possible, then the phone, just to cry and have someone listen to my tears. And then by email. There. That's my hierarchy of how I'd like to receive my sad news. Not a long or probably even worthwhile post, but it's all that's in me today. Some days are better than others.

Today I'm remembering.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

finding the past in me

My background is Mennonite. And usually I'm proud of this, but occasionally it has made for interesting questions and conversations. Do you have electricity? Do you have arranged marriages? Are you allowed to go to movies? Do you drink wine? Are you allowed to do anything fun?

My maternal grandfather was of the Old Order Mennonite variety (horse and buggy and black clothing) until he was 6 years old. His family switched to "our" type of Mennonite because his parents wanted their kids to go to Sunday school, and my great-grandfather wanted to ride a bike to work.

So I feel like I have a secret inside of me sometimes - this connection to the past, but also to a people living in the present.

This photo was taken on a gravel road near our house. The boot is me; the car is mine; the buggy is in front. I don't usually drive with my foot up like this.

But it shows parts of me. The boots, which I love. The car, which I drive. The buggy in front, a connection to a part of my family in the past. I don't question that I'm where I should be (in the car, not in the buggy), but there are pieces of me that want to be in that buggy. Very small pieces, but they're there. The parts that romanticize a lifestyle: growing and eating local produce, living in ways that don't harm the earth like I do right now with my planes trains and automobiles, more simple things that bring pleasure, entertainment that doesn't depend on computer or TV, Monday laundry days, and a strong community of support. 

Which parts of the past do I bring to my present? What pieces of my history and my ancestry inform who I am today?

A few weeks ago, I saw a conservative Mennonite couple at the Starbucks at the Toronto International airport. They looked very out of place. I wanted to tell them: I know you. I'm one of you.

But I'm not at all. I recognized them, but they didn't even see me. I didn't know who they were, but I knew the people they belonged to. 

They have sacrificed much in terms of their lifestyle and choices. Me? Have I sacrificed anything? It's doubtful. They are visible because of the way they get around and the clothing they wear. I just fit right in. Nothing distinguishes me as having a shared ancestry. I am invisible, one of the masses - peopleless, potentially, in their view.

I wanted to claim my Mennonite-ness in that instant - to reach out to them to make them feel at ease (they looked a bit uncomfortable) and also to belong. To claim them as part of my larger family. But I didn't say anything. I just got my chai latte and lemon-cranberry scone and sat alone. Because that's part of the larger culture that I've learned - individualism.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

just 5 minutes

For all of you who are self-disciplined and have no problems getting to the mundane chores of the day, this won't be helpful. I applaud you, and wish I was more like you.

But if you have ever had trouble doing household tasks because there are always just so many more appealing things to do, I'll pass on a little trick I sometimes use.

I trick my mind into doing many tasks by saying, "Just 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes."

And it works! Because 5 minutes doesn't sound so bad for a lot of things.

Yesterday this was my list of "just 5 minutes" projects:

1. cleaning toilets

2. dumping out a huge Rubbermaid container of cards, letters, momentos, bills, clipped out magazine articles, travel brochures (some from 20 years ago), ticket stubs, etc... and actually SORTING THE WHOLE THING! This was a task I was putting off for about 20 years, so it was high time. I dumped out the entire container onto the bed, then sorted for "5 minutes" (3 hours). Fun times in memory lane.

[some of the treasures that I found are pictured here: a water bottle wrapper from Pondicherry, India (1995), ticket stub from the first "big show" I went to (The Lion King, 2001), bookmark from India (1995), a Chiclets package from Morocco (1992), a ticket stub from a Toronto Maple Leafs game (1994), a letter sent to me in the hospital in Indonesia (1995), airline tickets to Calcutta (1995), ticket stub from an amazing concert in Havana, Cuba (2002), a business card from a remote restaurant in the mountains near Fez, Morocco (1992), a ticket stub from the Great Hall of the People, China (1998)]

3. dusting

4. the dishes

5. vacuuming

6. playing Playmobil (isn't this bad? That I can't get down on the floor with my kid without thinking "ok - just 5 minutes"? The 5 minutes turned into 25 before I even knew it. Lesson learned. Just let go of that feeling like I have to get things done and play. Because this too shall pass too soon.)

So there you go. Your inspirational household task tip of the day.

Monday, 17 October 2011

song for autumn

Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
    don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
    the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
    freshets of wind?

And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
    warm caves, begin to think
of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep inside their bodies?

And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
    the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow?

The pond
    vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
    its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
    the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Friday, 14 October 2011

why I'm part of a church

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I've been trying to formulate it into a blog post in my head. And I can't quite figure out how to do it in one neat, tiny post. So this may just be part one of this topic. So beware.

There are so many reasons NOT to go to church. Like too busy, boring, hypocritical, conservative, heads stuck in the sand, irrelevant, tiring, same old same old been there done that, and sleeping in on Sundays. And then there's the whole "I can find God in nature" one. I'm sure there are tons more. All of these have been excuses at some point in my life.

Church can be a struggle for me. Like when I was younger and was told by someone at church that doubting was not good. "Real Christians don't doubt," he said. But doubting has been a path to faith for me. As I've grown up, I've learned that there's room in the church for all: doubters and believers alike. And as an adult, I've chosen to be part of a church. In particular, the Mennonite church.

Here are some reasons I go to/am part of church, in no particular order:

* It cracks me open. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in tiny ways. But the cracks let in a little bit of light. Like this quote:

There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. - Leonard Cohen

* I get a weekly dose of hope. And a vision of how the world could be.

* Sometimes a song or a sentence will bring a tear to my eye. For no good reason. Probably light getting through a crack.

* I want to be part of a caring community that nurtures faith and looks for glimpses of God in the everyday. I want that for my kids too.

* I want my kids to think outside of themselves. To know there is a larger world out there. Sometimes a prayer will bring a world event into our awareness in a different way.

* Potlucks.

* Peace, justice, and service to others are spoken of, encouraged, and modeled. I'm challenged to engage in my world. To change my world. To make a difference.

* I get a brain re-boot each week if I let myself. If I'm open to being changed by a word or a song, it's amazing what can happen. After I fight with my husband (yes, we fight) I need to hear something of grace, forgiveness, and moving on.

* The silence can be profoundly loud. I am less selfish in the silence, and I hear whispers of God's voice. Sometimes. If I'm quiet enough. I wish there were more moments of silence at church. Being silent together with others is a profound experience for me. When I let it be.

* It helps me dive deep into the mysteries of life.

in a light-filled chapel in Elgin, Illinois

Thursday, 13 October 2011


I'm still on the topic of the weekend fair. We enjoyed so much about that day, but the best part about going to the fair was that we found a baby turtle and named it Tortellini.

This baby painted turtle was adorable. I'd never seen one so small - about two inches in diameter. We found it on the gravel near the bleachers after the horse show. No water in sight, and lots of big feet everywhere.

Eden picked it up and cared for that little thing like her life depended on it. She carried it around - bringing it on the ferris wheel and carefully cradling it as she walked around the fair. She plopped it down beside her for the demolition derby.

The man at the reptile tent (yes! There was a reptile tent!) told us to bring it to some freshwater - a shallow creek or a pond - within the next week.

So the next day, Eden bravely released the turtle at my aunt and uncle's pond after our Thanksgiving meal. And could it ever swim! It was so wonderful to watch.

We a created a little movie last night to remember sweet little Tortellini (for short: Tort). Because releasing is hard, but the memory is sweet.

For short, Tort from Rebecca Seiling on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


I was so absorbed with the fair on Sunday, that I didn't take much time to pause and think about what I'm thankful for this year. So I'm doing it now. What a perfect, perfect Thanksgiving weekend it was: sunny, warm enough for shorts, and colourful leaves all around. I felt like the thankfulness was bubbling up inside of me all weekend, and now it's about to overflow:

* for colour, for another beautiful autumn.

* for family: for a stronger marriage, and 3 beautiful girls to share life with this year.

* for new experiences that stretch and form us - our latest: hosting a teenage daughter from Afghanistan.

* to live in a place where I don't fear for my life or my family's lives.

* for creative, fulfilling work.

* for a house, even if it's not my dream home. It's a home, which is more than many have.

* for time to think and read and worship and write.

* for friends.

* for inspiration from others.

* for more than enough: food, time, money, love.

* for the moving of the spirit that gives life.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

the magic of a fall fair

Some friends tipped us off to a great little fall fair happening this past weekend: the Rockton World's Fair. I had this craving for an autumn small town fair. It had been years since I had been at one. We went on Sunday, and we were not disappointed. It was everything I'd hoped for and more:

healthy food like caramel apples,
gravy-smothered poutine,
and many deep-fried possibilities

a peaceful ride on the ferris wheel, a stunning view of the Niagara escarpment
complete with heavy metal music in the background
and, of course, a demolition derby
The afternoon was magic. Pure magic. At first, I scoffed at the idea of sitting through a demolition derby. But after the first round, I was hooked. The noise, the smell of gasoline - these almost faded into the background. I was rooting for the underdog - or sometimes just the one in second place. And things could turn in a second - the one you thought was a shoe-in would all of a sudden get hit, spin around, and be unable to move. We could NEVER predict who would come out on top. And I liked that. I also loved how all of the cars came out to start the race looking like this yellow one above: like crap. Wheels wobbly, tires on the front but not the back, bumpers barely hanging on, coughing, sputtering, ready for one more round of glory.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

yoga as worship

I remember the first time I did yoga, about 16 years ago. I loved it. But I remember hearing some people say that it wasn't a Christian kind of thing to do, and that if I open myself to yoga, who knows what might creep into my spirit. I could be opening the door to the occult, encouraging demons to reside inside of me, and worshiping false gods, just to name a few.

Well, here I am: 16 years later, and I've taken yoga classes off and on over the years. And still loved it. Except for one teacher who I couldn't really quite believe was real. She told us, "Everyone has India inside of themselves." (She wasn't Indian, and had never been there.) I asked her after class, "What about Switzerland? Does everyone have Switzerland inside of themselves too?"And she just smiled and told me that India is a state of mind, and you can have it or not have it. She had it.

She was more than a bit distracting during some of the poses in class. When I'd just want to breathe and calm my mind, she'd be encouraging us, "That's it! Just reach up, up, up, like a great big flower. Can you feel it? Ahhhh! That's it! Stretch up to the sun! Feel its warmth! Feel its heat pulsing and its rays warming your skin. Drink it in! Stretch, little flowers!" A bit too much for me.

So that was not such a worshipful feeling, to be mocking her in my head while trying to get something out of the yoga class. But I've had other teachers who have made me think and believe and dig deeper inside myself and have pointed the way. And the beauty of it was that they weren't pointing to their way, but helped me point deeper into my way. Am I making any sense, or am I sounding like India-flower-yoga-teacher?

Anyway, I was reminded again this evening of how worshipful yoga can be. With my body stretching, hand raised up, my gaze following it, I can feel like I'm doing the best thing I can be with this temple-body I've been given. Tree pose is a favourite too - with hands together above my head in prayer position, my foot rooted into the ground, my vision focused on a single point in front of me. It can feel like genuine worship.

"The whole person, with all his senses, with both mind and body, 
needs to be involved in genuine worship. " 
- Jerry Kerns

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

heroes: Mother Teresa

After supper last evening, we talked about heroes. Who are your heroes? One who always comes to mind for me is Mother Teresa. I had the chance to meet her in 1995 while I was in India.

I enlarged the photo on the left so that it focuses on that wonderful face, and those strong, worn, gentle hands. I keep this photo in my kitchen to remind me of what's important in life. 

I admire Mother Teresa and her tireless efforts to work with, and bring the world's attention to, the poor. Many of the things she wrote are inspiring, and here are a few that resonate with me:

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

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."

"I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world."

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway."

These are all lovely quotes, but I'm reading "Come Be My Light" by Mother Teresa right now, and I almost like it better than these uplifting writings. It's her correspondence with others about her dark nights of the soul, her doubts, her lack of belief, her struggles and spiritual dryness. And it didn't seem like it was a blip here and there, but there were long years, even decades, of pain and darkness in her soul.

Who would have known that this sweet, smiling nun was struggling so? But it gives me courage and pause - her optimistic writings give me hope, but even more, these sad laments do too. Comfort that I'm not alone in my doubts.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

the call of autumn

In the changing season of autumn, I hear a call. Like the call of the Canada geese flying south. Wake up, they honk at me, listen, heed this call...

A call to newness. To set new goals, to try new things, to be made new.

A call to discern. To use my time in wise ways. Not to waste it and not to stuff it too full. Both can be mighty temptations.

A call to walk and to experience. To hear the crispy crunch of dried fallen leaves underfoot. To inhale the pungent smells of autumn. To taste apples and pumpkins and squash and kale and sweet potatoes and cinnamon and cloves and grapes and to be grateful for another year here. To see - to notice - the small changes in colour every day. Take note! Because soon they'll be gone. Sooner than I can imagine if I don't stop and look.

A call to rest. To harvest the dying plants of summer. To make the land ready for winter rest. To quiet my mind. Because busy is so easy, and rest so hard. To slow down. To savour.

This year, this is the call of fall.

Monday, 3 October 2011

called by name

I was privileged to be at a friend's ordination last evening. It was beautiful and inspiring and made me think of calling. Am I called? What am I called to do? This post comes closest to what I can define right now - my most clearest calllings for this phase of my life are to tend the hearth here at home, and to give voice to stories.

But it is hard for me to sometimes claim these as callings. Or to even think that I COULD be called. Because maybe only others get called, or get talked to by divine beings. Not me.

If I search deep enough, I can feel it though. Only in the quietest moments, which tend to be few and far between lately.

Thus says the Lord, the one who formed you, the one who created you:

for I have redeemed you.
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters, 
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. 
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your saviour.
and honoured, and I love you." 

Isaiah 43:1-3, paraphrased