Saturday, 29 December 2012

le fou ravi

My friend Mara, who lives in the Provence region of France, told me about the nativity set that she has at her home. It includes many characters typical of life in a traditional Proven├žal village, called "santons" - little saints. Each family's set may differ, but some of the santons include bakers carrying baguettes, a washerwoman, a spinstress, shepherds, women collecting lavender, wise men, the knife-sharpener, a blind man and his son, and the mayor. Rural and city folk, mighty and low, mingle together in the nativity display.

Three figures seem to be prominent in every Proven├žal creche: the drummer boy, the miller, and the fou ravi. This fou ravi is the crazy villager - the village idiot, in a fond and loving way - who has "seen the light." They remind me a bit of the humble shepherds. How were they chosen to receive the news of angels, and to visit this baby on the night of his birth? They were - and they returned, praising God for what they had experienced. They were in awe. Enraptured. Ravished fools.

I am intrigued by this character - arms raised in praise and joy of the unexpected miracle of God-with-us.

This is the character I want to be in this new year: le fou ravi. Not the village idiot, exactly, but someone who is enraptured, awe-stricken, ravished in bliss, dumbfounded and overjoyed at unexpected miracles.

I'm not one to raise my hands in joy, but maybe it's time to try something new. Because I think that our physical stance - the way we hold our bodies, the way we present to others - affects the way we think/act, and vice versa. So this will be my new stance, even if I just practice it in my bathroom at home.

More pictures of awe and enraptured joy:

at the butterfly conservatory
Photo credit: Shauna Leis
at the Mediterranean Sea, Cinque Terre, Italy
Advent week 4: LOVE

December 29th: What is your stance/approach to the coming year?

Friday, 21 December 2012

God is not dead

I'm not much of a facebook fanatic, but I've checked out my feed in the last week. And I'm sorry that I did. Because here is a summary of the messages that came through loud and clear to me: God wasn't there. Why bother praying? More guns, please, in the hands of common folk. God needs to get back in the schools. We are sin (yes, the noun!). Why doesn't God protect? Why is there suffering?

Some age-old questions that can make us wonder what, or if, we believe. Here's what I believe. There is evil in the world, even in my own mind. I am a child of God, created in God's good image. God has, and does, appear to us in surprising ways. Like as a baby born in a cave, visited by the lowest of the low, and by mighty kings. Last December, the children at our church were detectives of divinity - looking for glimpses of God's presence in the world. I need to be reminded of those glimpses again. God is with us. Immanuel.

One of my favourite Christmas carols is "I heard the bells on Christmas day." The track has been looping through my mind over the past few days, especially the 3rd and 4th verses. They speak powerfully to me every year. Henry Radsworth Longfellow wrote the lyrics on Christmas day in 1863, in response to the horrors of the American Civil War. His wife had died tragically a few years before, and his son had been severely wounded in the war.

Here are the lyrics:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
their old familiar carols play
and wild and sweet, the words repeat of
"peace on earth, goodwill to all."

I thought how, as the day had come
the belfries of all Christendom
had rolled along the unbroken song of
peace on earth, goodwill to all.

And in despair I bowed my head,
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song 
of peace on earth, goodwill to all."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, and right prevail,
with peace on earth, goodwill to all."

Til ringing, singing, on its way,
the world revolved from night to day,
a voice, a chime, a chant sublime, 
of peace on earth, goodwill to all. 

So, on this longest night of the year, I will remember this: through the darkness, there is light. God is not dead.

December 21st: What will you remember on this darkest night? 
The version below, sung by my friends "saffie":

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

a voice in Ramah, Connecticut, and Kabul

I haven't been able to shake the news from this past Friday's shooting in a school in Connecticut. Perhaps it's because my youngest child is 6. Maybe it's because it's supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year." Perhaps it's because I'm human, and I know that in the deepest part of me that this is not the kind of world that God wishes for us.

There is a section of text from Matthew 2:16-18 that is not usually included in our Advent sermons or Christmas pageants. This was the first verse that came to me on Friday when I heard this news. Many years ago, when friends lost a baby, Derek preached an Advent sermon about this text. Some of what's below are ideas stolen from this sermon (thanks, Derek!). Here is the text:

"When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

'A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.'"

Derek and I saw a play in Boston many years ago based on medieval Mystery Plays. These were plays that were performed in the town squares in Europe during the middle ages to teach Bible stories. The version that we saw included several scenes of numbing violence and raw emotion. One particularly disturbing scene - I can still picture it today after seeing it 14 years ago - was a section of the Christmas story. After Joseph, Mary and Jesus exited the stage (on their way to Egypt in the story), several women entered the stage area, carrying and singing to little bundles in their arms. All of a sudden, soldiers rushed in, tearing the bundles from the mothers' arms and thrusting them with their spears, turning them inside out to reveal crimson red ribbons. The soldiers threw the bundles into heaps on the floor and walked away to leave the mothers, sobbing over the bloody mounds.

We were both in shock after the play. It was definitely NOT the "happily ever after" Christmas story that we're used to - with cute, fluffy lambs, shepherds who trip over their bath robes, and wise men wearing too-big crowns. We had many questions. Could deep agony and despair be part of the Christmas story? Could the birth of this "God-with-us" baby actually cause the suffering of other innocent children? How does God break into situations of pain?

When I talk to Shegofa about her experiences growing up under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, I am blown away. "How did you not cry every day?" I asked her. Their daily dose of violence and destruction numbed her to feeling sad, and she said that she just concentrated on her own family - hoping for safety, but sometimes fearing the worst when a bomb went off close to home. I'm sure that many voices can still be heard in Kabul and around Afghanistan, weeping for children who are no more.

Back to Jeremiah. After the section that's quoted in Matthew, Jeremiah turns hopeful in 31:13,

"Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for all your work shall be rewarded...
There is hope for your future."

So while many facebook posts that I've read lately question whether to pray, or why to pray, at times like these, or where God is, or whether God is, I choose to pray. Even if that means crying out in anger. I choose to believe that there is hope for our future.

December 19th: Not a question today, just a word: believe. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Pollyanna Peacenik

Advent week 3: peace.

Yesterday, we had a lessons and carols service at our church. I sat in the pew with boys ages 6-9. They drew quietly during the service, waiting for their time to get up and sing. Their images were striking: Star Wars spaceships, stick figures holding guns with dotted lines leading to another stick figure, other stick figures laying on the ground with the word "dead" written below, and speech bubbles between figures, threatening to kill. All of these boys come from stable, safe, secure, peace-loving and promoting homes. So why this fascination with violence?

There are times when I feel like Pollyanna Peacenik. Like in May, when a friend and I presented at a conference in DC. Our topic was "Teaching Peace to Children." It was a fine presentation, but the next night there was a panel on violence, and one of the panelists, Melvin Bray, spoke about growing up in a violent area of DC, and always carrying a knife to defend himself. His story moved me, especially as I preached about peace.

Who was I to say anything about peace? I had lived a very safe, happy childhood, growing up with 3 siblings on a farm - loved, encouraged, secure. I'm sure there was a bit of violence at times... I remember one particularly angered departure from our school bus, my brother chasing me the whole way in the lane, ready to pummel me. But those moments of violence were few and far between, at least in my memory. I have never carried a knife; I have never needed to defend myself. I've led a Pollyanna kind of life, with peace as a theoretical construct.

I approached Melvin the next morning, unsure of what I was going to say. I just knew I had to say something. I said, "I was really moved by your story last night. And I thought: who am I to be telling stories of peace when I don't really understand violence? I've never experienced it, so I must sound really stupid to you. Maybe only people who have experienced violence can truly teach about peace." And I broke down, tears streaming down my cheeks. I told him that this is part of who I thought I was - someone who sought out and told and retold stories of peace. But maybe I had been mistaken. Maybe others need to tell these stories - not me. He listened intently, his hand gripping mine and said, "Don't stop telling your stories. I need to hear stories that help me to imagine a way of peace, just like you need to hear my story and stories of others who have had experiences of violence."

So through that experience, I've thought about how my "pollyanna peacenik-ness" needs to be nuanced by an understanding that is more realistic - that takes into account the child soldiers, the abused sons, the bullied daughters, and the grade one children shot dead in Connecticut.

There is so much need for peace in our world.

December 17th: Where are you being led to pray for peace in our world? Where are you being led to act for peace? 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

my scrooge-like heart

December 13th: Take a moment to think about giving. To whom do you show generosity? How do you feel about gifting/giving? How do you receive gifts? Do you give without strings attached?

I've been thinking about this lately, and examining my Scrooge-like heart. There are definitely times that I give in order to have some kick-back. A good feeling, a spoken thank you, a note of thanks - some kind of recognition. I want my money or my time or my thoughtfulness to be appreciated, and for that person to show me that they appreciate it. Otherwise, I don't feel like being as generous to that person.

Sometimes there are people in my life who take more energy than what they give back to me. I have to prepare myself to be with them, and I feel a bit drained after being with them. (and don't worry - it's none of you who read this blog!)

So I am challenged to give. To give without expectations, but out of a full heart. To bless others because I've been blessed. And to stop there. Not hope for some kind of validation or appreciation. Because sometimes it's just not going to come. And sometimes I know I don't express appreciation when I should. So I want to make more of a point of sending thank you cards when it occurs to me - not just think "oh, I should send that person a thank you card" and then promptly forget about that idea.

It's made me think of The Christmas Carol. This story seems to speak to the problem of poverty in our world: that it's not a lack of resources, but a lack of generosity. I'm looking to expand my heart - to not keep score, to say thank you more often, and to cut those strings that are sometimes attached in my mind.

But also protect my heart. Sometimes it can be tempting to give until I'm depleted. Then I don't have that full heart anymore. I can only give out of my fullness.

In this season of giving, I want to keep this in the forefront of my mind: I have been blessed, so I will be a blessing. In the words of Tiny Tim:

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a giid time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, 'God bless it!'"

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe to make the season bright.

December 12th: What brightens this season for you? Do you have favourite decorations that bring back memories? What ornament would symbolize this year?

I thought about these questions after reading Shauna's comment in yesterday's post. She talked about how her tree decorations have meaning. And that she keeps a special book where she writes down the special ornament that is given or received each year. She also talked about how her mother gives an ornament to her grandchildren, along with some memories that she has of that child over the past year. She wrote, "Our tree is full of memories and stories."

I love this. I started thinking about what ornament I would give to my kids this year to symbolize this year. I decided on a little house to symbolize moving to a new home. That was a big event in our year.

I enjoy seeing other people's Christmas trees - because there are not two alike. Each one symbolizes that family in some way. I was at a friend's house on the weekend, and she told me the origins of some of her ornaments - some were from students of hers, and there was a beautiful nest with 2 birds that was a gift from her husband when they were dating. I thought this was so sweet - to remember this each year as she decorates and gazes at her tree.

Here are some ornaments over the years that bring back memories:

a wreath, made by my grandma (I love the shiny fabrics the most)
tin moon ornament Derek and I bought on a trip to Guatemala
mouse is a childhood ornament (loved those mice!),
and Pinocchio is from our family's time in Europe 2 years ago
from a visit to the Six Nations reserve
the Laotian nativity my husband and I bought 8 years ago, wondering if our children
would be messed up talking about the elephant in the manger and the baby in the hanging basket
a wallhanging my mom made - the candle is made from fabric from a wedding dress of mine
(the after-wedding party dress, not the white one)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Christmas Orange

December 11th: An easy one. What is your favourite holiday story or or TV special or movie?

Movie: Sound of Music (not Christmas-y but shown on TV on Christmas day)

TV special: 1/2 hour How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I love the Whos and their optimism in hard times)

Story: The Christmas Orange by Don Gillmor

One of my favourite Christmas stories is the children's picture book The Christmas Orange by Canadian author Don Gillmor. Anton's birthday is on December 25th, and he has a mile-long list of things for Santa to bring him, and ends up just receiving one thing: an orange. I love this story because that's what my grandpa Horst used to get as a kid for Christmas - a big Christmas orange and a plateful of nuts and candies. Each of his 9 siblings got the same thing - set out on individual dinner plates for them on Christmas morning.

Anyway, this story reminds me of the simplicity of Christmases in days gone by, and also tells Anton the message that perhaps you don't always get what you WANT for Christmas, but what you NEED. Anton didn't need any more toys; he needed on perfect, round orange to remind him about what really matters. We've used this book in our family to talk about wants vs. needs and to dream about simple gifts that usually aren't on our lists, like a perfect Christmas orange.

Another Christmas orange story (author unknown):

Once there was a little girl who came to live in an orphanage in Denmark. As Christmas time grew near, all of the other children began telling the little girl about the beautiful Christmas tree that would appear in the huge downstairs hall on Christmas morning. After their usual, very plain breakfast, each child would be given their one and only Christmas gift; small, single orange.

Now the headmaster of the orphanage was very stern and he thought Christmas to be a bother. So on Christmas Eve, when he caught the little girl creeping down the stairs to catch a peek at the much-heard-of Christmas tree, he sharply declared that the little girl would not receive her Christmas orange because she had been so curious as to disobey the rules. The little girl ran back to her room, broken-hearted and crying at her terrible fate.

The next morning as the other children were going down to breakfast, the little girl stayed in her bed. She couldn't stand the thought of seeing the others receive their gift when there would be none for her. 

Later, as the children came back upstairs, the little girl was surprised to be handed a napkin. As she carefully opened it, there to her disbelief was an orange all peeled and sectioned. 

"How could this be?" she asked.

She discovered that each child had taken one section from their orange and given it to her so that she, too, would have a Christmas orange.

a Christmas wish come true - an orange that she could drink!

Monday, 10 December 2012

tidings of comfort and joy

Time to catch up after the weekend... questions for reflection for the last couple of days:

December 8: What brought you pain in the last year? 

December 9: Where did you find comfort during these painful times? If you could make a comfort bag for yourself, what would be in it?

In my comfort bag:

  • rice bag that gets heated in the microwave and says "cherish" on it. I put it around my shoulders and feel very comforted.
  • dark chocolate with sea salt
  • photos of loved ones
  • a letter from my grandma
  • a scrapbook of encouraging cards/notes I've received over the years
  • chai latte or other teas
  • a journal
In Derek's comfort bag: 
  • a big screen TV where he could watch professional sports
  • chips and popcorn
  • something written by Umberto Eco
  • a Bible
  • Madden football for xbox or Play Station
  • coffee or ginger ale or ale of some sort
  • Settlers or some other 3-hour long board game
  • baked brie with crackers
[Derek's comfort bag would need to be much larger than mine.]

I'm remembering last year, when I gave my parents and siblings gifts of comfort and joy. Here are the contents if you need a last minute idea. They were a lot of fun to make and put together. Here's what they looked like:

December 10: Advent week 2 is about joy. What brings you joy? How can you continue these joyful experiences in the new year? How can you use your list to bring joy to others?

JOY: Bollywood dancing, live theatre, making crafts with my daughters, thoughtful friends, a surprise note or gift, when people share their time with me and don't make me feel like they have something better to do or that they have to rush on to something else, finding a bargain at the thrift store, collaborating, an hour to read fiction on the weekend, visiting my parent's farm where I grew up, when people cook for me (I love any meal I don't have to make myself...maybe except some hot pot meats I ate while in China like sheep brains and cow's throat)

Friday, 7 December 2012

what I know about me

December 7th: What do you know about yourself? Pick a number - could be your age, could be a random number bigger than 20 but smaller than 120. Could be 100! Then start writing things you know about yourself. There are many lists of "100 things about me" online. I decided to start with my age, but then I kept going because I was having so much fun.
  1. When I was young, I thought that the perfect honeymoon destination would be Disney World in Florida.
  2. I like to get cards where someone has taken the time to write something personal. Sometimes that's what I ask my husband to give me for my birthday. 
  3. I had a boyfriend from grade 4-6. This meant that we picked each other on teams at recess and he gave me a small stuffed bunny for Valentine's day one year. We didn't ever break up, but things fizzled out when we entered the larger pool of potential mates in grade 7.
  4. I had a mullet in grade 6. 
  5. My grade 6 French teacher called me rambunctious.
  6. I was sent to the principal's office in grade 11 for talking back to my French teacher. 
  7. I wanted to be fluent in French before I got married. I wasn't. Still not.
  8. I was blessed by Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
  9. I was blessed by an elephant in the south of India.
  10. I was sick for a week in a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia. I wondered if I'd ever walk again.
  11. I love sushi.
  12. On the Myers-Briggs test, I score smack-dab in the middle between introvert and extravert. It severely annoys me when people lump others into introvert/extravert categories. I resist these generalizations as much as possible. 
  13. I have a soft spot for garage sales and thrift stores.
  14. I had a poster of Bono Vox in my locker in high school.
  15. I missed U2's Joshua Tree concert to go to a cross-country running meet in Rochester, NY instead. Stupid decision that I'll always regret.
  16. While others were renting limos to go to the formal in grade 12, my friends and I decorated a van, complete with signs that said "party van" and tissue flowers. Instead of an expensive dinner at an expensive restaurant, we had a progressive dinner at our various houses.
  17. I have a very sweet tooth.
  18. I often wonder what I really and truly believe.
  19. Sometimes I feel I have more in common with a Buddhist than another Christian.
  20. I don't like malls.
  21. The idea of a house church really intrigues me.
  22. I don't feel like I'm a good cook. This stops me from hosting more. So does a messy house, but this has been improving lately.
  23. I speed often, even though I attended a "speed kills" workshop after getting so many points on my record that they threatened to take away my license. 
  24. I'm chronically late, which causes me to speed. I learned this in the workshop.
  25. It really bothers me when airlines don't offer a free snack.
  26. I love thunderstorms, especially at night.
  27. I love The Sound of Music, especially the thunderstorm part.
  28. I have little sense of orientation. North, West, South, East mean very little to me.
  29. I would not make a good hockey mom. I used to get very upset at the players and refs when I'd go to my younger brother's games. I just can't shut my mouth when someone's being pushed around.
  30. The toilet seat should be down. I learned this from feng shui, and it just makes sense.
  31. I don't like it when people over-use the period. just. like. this. 
  32. My cousin and I used to spend hours making tape cassettes with Hardy Boy adventures on them. We had amazing, realistic sound effects. When we needed a water splash, one of us jumped into the pool. She was Frank, I was Joe.
  33. I have a learned helplessness with things like operating the TV and DVD player and making popcorn.
  34. I can't nap or I feel just awful.
  35. I love to travel. Favourite place: India. Second favourite: Guatemala.
  36. If I could pick someone to narrate my life, it would be Morgan Freeman. 
  37. I really enjoyed my brother's skateboard phase in high school, and I memorized several raps from his RUN DMC tape. I still know them.
  38. In high school, my friend and I used to make up raps as birthday presents for friends. I'm pretty sure they appreciated them. 
  39. I would love to live on a farm except without all the chores.
  40. I would love to live near water some day, even just for a month. Ocean is preferable.
  41. I would like to learn to ride a motorcycle some day. My time on dirt bikes and four-wheelers in the gravel pit in high school was awesome.
  42. I think I'll be fine if I never get a tattoo.
  43. I still don't really get the point of cell phones.
  44. I didn't have Barbie dolls when I was young. I had the Sunshine family (complete with mom, dad, baby, grandma, grandpa) and Cindy (less voluptuous). But I had an awesome laundry machine for Cindy that was battery operated and you could put real water in. 
  45. I regret cutting bangs on my Mandie doll.
  46. I love Cheerios any time of the day.
  47. I love Bollywood music. I know it's mostly about love and relationships, but this is what I hear when I listen to it: "life is great, don't you think! Have fun, you're awesome, you've got one life to live so live it well." 
  48. I love salsa and merengue music. I know it's mostly about love and relationships, and the message I hear when I listen to it is the same as what's above.
  49. I had a pet raccoon for one summer when I was young. I wrote a speech about him.
  50. I had umpteen books about Princess Diana (still have several favourites, including Pop-Up Royal Wedding and Charles and Diana paper dolls). I wrote a speech about her. 
  51. I love to travel and meet new people, try new foods, experience new things.
  52. I was in a gifted math program in grade 10 and I have no idea why. I suck at numbers.
  53. It annoys me when people say that they're spiritual and not religious. Yes - you and everyone else I know.
  54. I can't play long and involved board games. Bored games. My husband sure can.
  55. I love the smell of coffee, but not the taste. Ever since I went to India in 1995, I have loved chai tea. 
  56. I am not a gadget freak. I'm the opposite.
  57. Some of my childhood heroes were Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, Ramona, and Laura from Little House on the Prairie.
  58. Some of my adulthood heroes are Deborah Ellis (love her books for kids) and Anne Lamott (love her irreverent writing).
  59. Last week I bought a sign at the thrift store that says "Dull women have immaculate houses" and put it in a prominent place.
  60. It makes me very happy to bring beauty to a room.
  61. I skied in the French Jura mountains. 
  62. I went scuba diving off the coast of northern Honduran islands. It scared the heck out of me until I saw the fish, then I forgot all about the many possible ways I could die while hooked up to a tank underwater. It was an absolutely beautiful world. A whole new world, as Ariel would say.
  63. I camped at the top of a huge waterfall in Morocco where we saw monkeys every morning and went to sleep to the sound of the falls. It's one of the most beautiful places I've seen.
  64. I played some sort of gourd in a salsa band in Cuba. 
  65. I'm not a big fan of routine.
  66. Although I don't love routine, I love tradition - creating and maintaining meaningful rituals and celebrations.
  67. Seeing children and youth perform anything can bring me to tears.
  68. Listening to Christmas music can bring me to tears.
  69. I've never been a girly-girl but I actually like having my nails french-manicured for a treat.
  70. I like to talk to the people I sit beside on an airplane. I love hearing people's stories and finding our points of connection.
  71. I was nervous as heck to make this blog public in March of 2011.
skiing in the Jura mountains
salsa band in Cuba

Thursday, 6 December 2012

I'm dreaming of a . . .

December 6th: Is there something you're dreaming of doing that you've put off? Can you make this happen in the new year?

Playing in a steel drum band. Whenever I hear this music, like at a Santa Claus parade or something, it just makes me feel extremely happy. And warm, like I'm on a lovely Caribbean beach, dipping my toes in the salty ocean, collecting shells, snorkelling. Ahhh.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

artificial vs. the real deal

December 5th: What parts of you are artificial or fake? What parts are the real deal? (and I'm not talking body parts here, I'm talking characteristics) Who are you at your most real?

We had a debate, my husband and I, over what type of Christmas tree to purchase this year. Our small artificial tree, bought 11 years ago at the Stouffville MCC Care and Share Thrift Store for $5.00, had broken.  So we wondered: do we go artificial or real?

Here was the conversation, as I remember it:

Him: Christmas trees are on sale at Canadian Tire.

Me: You mean fake ones?

Him: Yes - for about $75, we can have a tree that would last us until we die.

Me: But I don't think I want one tree until I die. I was really looking forward to having a real tree this year. I love the smell, and they're just so much more, well, real.

Him: Why would you pay $75 to cut down a real tree that you're just going to throw out after Christmas? (he doesn't shop for real trees that often, so he's exaggerating prices to support his argument)

Me: It's more environmentally friendly. I've read statistics that show that. Plus it smells nice and it won't lay in a dump EVER.

Him: [silence]

Me: I've been wanting a real tree for so long, can't we just have one this year?

Him: We could buy a real one and a fake one - we have room in this house for more than one tree. (this sounds like a great compromise, right?)

Me: I think that one is enough.

One day passes. Then I happen upon a "tree farm" set up last Saturday at our local MCC Generations thrift store. More than a dozen trees are standing up outside the store, just waiting to be bought and decorated. They look beautiful. They are fake.

I wrestle inside myself for a few minutes, then decide. This $35 will go to relief and development work. We'll have a tree that has had some merry Christmases in other houses before ours. I like that. A tree with memories. Plus, it will last us until we die.

So we have a lovely fake tree in our family room now. And everyone is happy.

not-quite-decorated tree,
but features 2 felted reindeer heads
that daughters and I created
But back to the question of the day: I am most real when I am creating or connecting with people. When I am doing work that I believe in. When I'm using my voice - either through writing or speaking or collaborating with others. When I'm reading to and praying with my kids at bedtime. I'm most fake when I feel I have to prove myself to others.

Another random thought that connects if you're in my brain: on December 1, 1055 Rosa Parks was arrested and fined on December 5th for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. She was the real deal.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

hopes and fears of all the years

December 4th: What fears do you want to leave behind as you enter the new year?

Turning 40. I know it's silly. It's just a number, right? But I'm keenly feeling it - that my days in my 30s are numbered now. Any advice for how to usher in this milestone in positive ways is more than welcome.

Monday, 3 December 2012

treasured gifts

December 3rd: What gifts have you treasured this year?

This is an easy one: I got a home that feels like home. We lived in our previous house for more than 6 years, and it never felt like home. We've been here for less than 6 months, and I frequently find myself saying to myself, "I'm home." That is a good, good feeling and I feel blessed. I can now say, "Home is where the heart/h is." I'm settled, I'm home, and I feel it in a very deep part of me.

there's just something about old grates...
a peek at a corner
an apple bobbing party in the backyard
along with an adult-kid tug-of-war in the leaves
the hearth

Sunday, 2 December 2012

the past year in a word

December 2nd: What one word would sum up this past year for you?

Yes, I'm back on this one word kick again. I'm a word-lover, so this is one of my favourite things to do to usher in a new year. Choose one word.

This past year, the word I chose was cherish.

But as I look back, the word I'd pick to describe this past year is change. There have been many changes in our lives - we sold our old house and bought a new one, moved, worked on our new house, got to know a new neighbourhood and new neighbours and a new school, my youngest started her full-time school career (started grade one), I started a new job that's almost fulltime (the most I've officially worked outside of hearth-tending since Eden was born 6 years ago), and there has been a lot of 4 day travel trips for work in the past fall season (Indiana, Edmonton, Indiana -- you know, all of the hot destinations). My husband's work was especially demanding this fall too. I'm amazed that we have remembered to feed and clothe our kids through it all.

Another word would be full. Overall, it's been too full - from February til now. I'm usually a fan of full lives, but this has been full to overflowing - in a bad way. Right now, I want less.

This weekend has been less. We had absolutely nothing on our calendars, and it was a little taste of heaven. We put up a Christmas tree, lit some candles, nurtured a fevered child, made Colombian chicken soup, and listened to our favourite Christmas CDs. It was just what I needed. I want to carry this "less" into the Christmas season and beyond - so that I don't feel so harried and rushed and stuffed to the brim. Makes me think of those squirrels in our backyards with well-fed tummies and chubby cheeks - they're preparing for winter. They're allowed to be stuffed. It's good for them to be stuffed. Can't say the same for me.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


I like to spend December reflecting on the year that's almost done, and anticipating the year to come.  This Advent I want to have one question for each day of December to help me to do that. You're welcome to join in the reflecting fun!

Since the first week of Advent is about hope, that's where I'll start.

Dec. 1st: What has given you hope this year?

  • hearing from family and friends who work in South Africa - about programs where people work with the most marginalized and inspire them to social action/transformation. I find that incredibly hopeful and inspirational.
  • releasing 5 monarch butterflies this summer. Always with a hope and a prayer.
  • reading "Do Hard Things" written by 2 youth, and seeing youth around me taking initiative and changing things. Having higher expectations of children and youth gives me hope.
  • my children. Constantly a source of hope, they help me to see through new eyes.
  • holding chickadees, and other experiences that connect us to the land and to creation. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Advent calendar ideas

If you're like me, you woke up this morning shocked that it was the last day of November.

What does this mean, you ask? Advent calendars go up TOMORROW!

I always like to have an Advent calendar in December. I shy away from the chocolate-y ones, and have opted for one that I can put a little message in every day. We've indulged in Playmobil ones in the past, but I don't see a great need for more Advent playmobil sets here.

Here's a post I did last year with a variety of ideas for Advent calendars - made of paper, socks, fabric.

And this my idea for this year: a photo memory Advent calendar. This calendar made me think of printing off photos of Christmases past and putting one up every day. I'm going to try to post them in a shape like this as the month goes on. We'll see what it ends up looking like!

I think it will be fun to relive memories of Christmases past, as well as look ahead to our Christmas celebrations this year.

Off I go to print off photos! And it's even snowing. Perfect.

A little update (Dec. 2): my youngest was less than impressed with this photo Advent calendar idea, but I'm sticking with it. I think that by day 25 it will look wonderful and bring back lots of memories. She hauled out the calendar I made last year with one little instruction/idea on it every day. That made me a bit nervous, because experience has taught me that while it's fun to create calendars like that, it's hard to follow through. Like when it says make Christmas cookies on a day when you don't have any of the ingredients around. So, I proposed a reverse kind of Advent calendar for Eden this year. Every day, we will write something down AT THE END OF THE DAY that we did to prepare for Christmas. December 1st: bought a Christmas tree. Success! We'll see what we write at the end of today...

Another update (Dec. 26): I think this was my favourite Advent calendar ever. The girls really liked seeing photos of Christmases past. 

Here's the evidence:

Here's another Advent calendar idea I'd love to do with our Hallowe'en candy next year. Brilliant!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

tangible prayers

There is a group at our church that meets each week to make prayer shawls. They knit these shawls and have a stash kept at church that people can draw from for various reasons. The church gives out a prayer shawl to 18 year olds in the church as a way of wrapping them with love and prayers in their 18th year as they chart new territory and are sent out into the work or post-secondary school world. It's always a moving time to see the shawls presented and to hear the parents talk about their children.

The shawls are also given to people who are going through a hard time or illness, or who are preparing for a challenge. My husband was given a shawl when he was about to defend his Ph.D. dissertation. Our family was given a shawl to take to France with us for our 4 month sabbatical, as a reminder of our church's prayers and support for us while we were gone. We felt very blessed by these tangible expressions of prayer and love.

My daughters and their friend had a meaningful opportunity to give a prayer shawl this past Sunday. I will never forget this experience, and I doubt they will either. A friend of Eden's has been going through treatments for brain cancer. We visited him at his home and the girls gave him prayer shawl along with a big card from the children at our church. When they finished telling him about the card and shawl, he said, "That's the nicest story I've ever heard."

Because of his brain surgery, his sight, speech and mobility have been affected. But his spark is still there. He cracked jokes, laughed loudly, and played a mean game of Connect 4 with his guests. Since visiting him, we have shed many tears for a world where a 6 year old like Nolan could get brain cancer. We are praying fervently for Nolan's brain and body to be restored. Will you join us?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

catch and cradle

In Find Your Strongest Life, Marcus Buckingham talks about balance. That everyone's striving for balance, but that it's not a realistic or desirable goal. Balance is a shifting target, and we're never quite sure whether we've achieved it. I know I usually come up short when I try to assess my life in terms of 'balance.'

He says that we should strive for imbalance - intentionally shift our lives toward those moments and activities that bring us joy and strength.

He calls this intentional imbalancing "catch and cradle."

By catching, we're noticing the moments in life that strengthen us, and intentionally "catching" them, holding them, noticing them.

By cradling, it's like we're paying very close attention to the moments, like you would when you cradle a small baby. We're concentrating on, accepting, cherishing, and nurturing those moments of strength.

I loved this idea. So, in my search for imbalance and for strong moments several weeks ago, I went for a walk. It was a beautiful fall day, and I brought my camera to help me catch and cradle the fall beauty.

I started to see leaves all over the place that were "caught" - by cobwebs or crevices in trees or by magic, it seemed.

Blessings to you as you catch and cradle moments, days, weeks this fall.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

naming strengths

I just finished reading Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham. A good, easy, inspiring read. He offers an online test to help you figure out your "lead" and "supporting" roles. Mine were "creator", followed by "influencer". The test directs you back to the book to find out more about these roles.

Buckingham defines strengths as those things that make you feel strong. He asks the reader to notice the moments in your everyday life where you feel strong and magnificent - moments that go by quickly, where you're so absorbed you don't notice time passing. And he encourages us to live a life that amplifies these strengths - where you are ideally doing some of these things every day.

So I took some time this week to write down the moments in my week/days where I felt strong and magnificent. Take, for instance, yesterday. Here is my list:

* crawling through a cave (actually slithering at some points) at Rockwood Conservation Area, and encouraging some unsure 8 year olds to do the same. I loved it! Felt so good to do it and to get to the other side. And to help someone else do it - even better!

* watching grade 7s and 8s run a cross country meet at the conservation area brought back a strong memory from high school. I ran on the cross country team, and sometimes my coach would run right behind us in practice, just tapping us on the backs to make us run faster. During some races, I swear I could feel that hand on my back (it wasn't there). It made me feel stronger and faster. And finishing the race - what a feeling of magnificence! (and nausea too sometimes, but that is another story...) Pushing my body gave me a feeling a strength.

* fishing through a river with my hands, looking for insects and crayfish. And catching a crayfish with my bare hands! And showing kids what a water penny insect and a dragonfly larvae look like.

* cleaning up the dishes. This was a surprising one for me, and please don't tell my husband this one. I  usually put off cleaning up the dishes, but I noticed that the feeling of magnificence I feel at seeing a spotless counter makes it all worth it. I need to remember that the end feeling (just like the x-country race) is worth the yucky feeling of forcing myself to do a chore I don't really "feel" like doing.

* bedtime reading and prayers. I've become more intentional about this time with my girls, and I love it. I look forward to hearing about the things that made them "glad, sad, and sorry" each day, and looking ahead to the next day with hope and expectation. They are incredible, spiritual beings who teach me so much.

* noticing the beauty of nature - the colours, the light, the textures. And capturing it with my camera.

In general, here are the areas I noticed that gave me strength:
  • creating (writing, dreaming up new ideas, crafts, taking photos, making things for others)
  • bringing order to chaos
  • being outside; enjoying the natural world
  • pushing my body physically
  • teaching/leading/presenting
  • creating meaningful family rituals/routines

Seems like I've known this before, but reframing them as my strengths has given me a different way of looking at my days.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

solo road trip

I took a solo road trip to Goshen, Indiana for some meetings last week. As I drove, it struck me that I have never driven 7 hours ever by myself. The most I've driven solo was about 4.5 hours. All other road trips have been with my family growing up, my family now, my husband, friends, work colleagues, etc. Never just me. And I wasn't looking forward to the trip.

Admittedly, I have sunk to some embarrassing lows in terms of some learned helplessness that I've developed around traveling since kids have come along. It's like my brain can only handle so much - and these are the things I've become self-proclaimed "captain of": packing for everyone, snacks, entertainment, managing emotions, leading sing-alongs, driving when need be. Derek is captain of gas (both types), paying for things, passports, navigating, driving, and pointing out things along the road that nobody in a carseat can see.

What happened to the 19 year old me who led a group of 16 15-year olds on a 10 day canoe trip through Algonquin park (sans cell phone)? Where was the 21 year old me who breezed through Indian customs in Calcutta, my only casualty in 7 months of traveling my stolen Birkenstock shoes? Or the 25 year old who led a group of grade 12s on a month long trip in China?

I needed to summon these earlier versions of myself.

And I'm glad I did - it was a great trip, both there and back. Kind of a little silent-ish retreat. If you have the chance to do a 7 hour solo road trip, seize it. You can sing and slap your knees as loud as you like. You can stop at outlet malls for as long as you like. You don't have to wait for anybody but yourself to go to the bathroom. There is no one to gasp when you have to brake quickly, and no one but Mr. GPS to show you the way.

Because I was by myself, I had lots of time to think. And observe. I had time to take in the changing leaves of fall, and the bald eagle sitting regally about 30 feet from the road. Here are a few of my additional trip observations/tips:

  • If you happen to go to a place called "Bubba's" for supper, stick with the quesadillas and pass on their specialty, "dopey dough" which comes with a side of Velveeta cheese for dipping.
  • Order one salad at Panera Bread, but then change your mind at the last minute and order a different one. Hopefully, the cashier will record the 1st one, but at the pickup counter they'll insist on giving you both salads for the price of one.
  • Go to the bathroom at a gas station BEFORE the border crossing so that you don't spend 45 minutes in crawling, stop and go traffic wondering if you have a container big enough or whether you should just say "those people will most likely never see me again" and go beside the car. This can all be avoided. 
  • Why, oh why, North American women, do you wear your yoga pants and sweats out on the town? Have going to restaurants and shopping at malls become so commonplace? Growing up, I lived on a farm in the country. We would go into "town" a couple of times a week for groceries and such. My town friend always joked that we sounded like we lived on Little House on the Prairie. But town was always an occasion to get out of "home clothes" and look presentable. Where has presentable gone, ladies? Sure, I like to dress casually, but do we need to look like we're ready to break out into a workout or yoga pose at any minute? [end of rant.]
  • Outlet malls no longer hold the thrill that they held for me in the 1980s. At that time, it made me almost giddy to go to our yearly high school cross-country meet in Rochester, New York. This trip always meant a stop at the North Tonawanda Outlet Malls. I was the only grade 9 on the team that year, and I eagerly followed my older and wiser teammates around the mall, loading up on reddish-brown Bass penny loafers, a forest green Ralph Lauren polo shirt, and bright yellow and dark pink pants from Benetton. I was truly in heaven. And the prices! Oh my. Now... well, I found some Christmas pjs for my daughters, and that was about as exciting as it was. I actually got bored and got back in the car. The appeal of more time to myself was more than the appeal of consuming. Amazing.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


A friend sent me some links to wonderful videos about playing to your strengths last week. There is a lot of great stuff to chew on; I highly recommend that you sit down and watch them sometime. I'll post them here:

I love how Marcus Buckingham (the guy in the videos) defines strengths (things that make us feel strong and magnificent) and how he defines hobbies (things for which we have a huge appetite but little ability).

This made me think about my own hobbies. In the past, when I would list my hobbies in the "interest" section of my resume, they looked something like this:

  • reading
  • writing
  • playing piano
  • languages
  • gardening
  • camping
Kind of dull, eh? They were either things I'm already good at, or interests of mine that I'm semi-good at already. Or things where there's not really a scale of good or bad, gifted or struggling, for them. Like "I'm an amazing camper - I'm probably the best camper in my family." Who really cares? 

But I didn't have any hobbies on this list that were things where I have little ability.

So this made me wonder: why do I avoid the things I'm not good at?

Pretty easy to answer that question: because I don't like failing. Especially in front of others.

In high school I even avoided team sports, except for soccer. Because I didn't totally suck at soccer. But besides that, I ran cross country and track. Individual sports where I had no one to disappoint but myself. 

If I would have been playing guitar for all of the years that I've said I'd love to learn how to play guitar, I'd probably be a pretty mean guitar player by now. But as it is, I'm not. 

I admire my daughters, who are learning many things right now and practicing, practicing, practicing. And playing. My daughters' piano teacher emphasizes that they find a "playtime" every day for piano. Not a practice time, but a playtime. I like this slight change of wording, and think I need to bring some "playtime" into my days.

So this fall, I've chosen a couple of things to try out where I have a big interest and absolutely no skill:

  • Bollywood dance lessons. I know that my friends who traveled with me to India will find this highly amusing. I've had a love affair with the Bollywood genre ever since I traveled there in 1995. The lessons are a hoot. So much fun and laughter and stumbling around. And absolutely humongous mirrors where you can't help but peek at yourself flailing around. The whole while, I'm thinking "Wow, I suck, but this is a pile of fun." The only thing I'm really good at in Bollywood dancing is smiling. I have one plastered on my face for the whole 45 minute lesson.
  • Poetry group. I have no idea what I'm doing as far as discussing or writing poetry, but I'm interested. And I'll probably make a fool of myself. Just like Bollywood. Only not so much hip and bum actions.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

doing enough

I have a problem with "enough." I often feel like I could do more, or should do more. More as a parent, more as a wife, more as a friend, more as an employee, more as a volunteer. I collapse into bed some nights, weary but wishing for that more. Thinking I haven't done enough that day.

I'm reading a very good book right now - perfect for this time of year when I tend to take on more. It's called A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller.

One part that I read last week has stuck with me. He writes about resetting our inner thermostat - that we all have a regulator inside ourselves that tells us when we are doing enough or too much. When we know how to "read" our body, it can tell us when our activity level has reached a comfortable level, or when it is uncomfortably busy.

BUT many people don't take time to read their inner thermostat (like me). Or the thermostat is broken and the house is on fire.

How do we know when we have taken on too much? Muller recommends asking this question when you approach a new task or responsibility:
  • Am I truly able to say that I really love this or is it more honest to say that I can handle this?
He says that if we take on too many things that we can merely "handle", then we get to a point where we feel we are barely able to handle our days - that we have too much. If we choose based on things we love, we are more likely to be nourished and feel "enough" at the end of the day. 

I struggle with this. I know I tend to take things on with the "I can handle this" attitude. Because I think "well, SOMEONE has to do this." If I'm at a committee meeting, I want it to end as soon as possible so I go away with more jobs than I probably should, just to speed the meeting along and because I can handle it. Or so I think.

But I want to keep this love/handle question in front of me this fall. I want to hit my pillow at night and think "That was a good day. That was enough."

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

end of summer

Well, it's me again. I've been away from this blog since the end of May, which in blogland is an entire eternity, so I'll understand completely if you've stopped reading. But if you're still there, I'm back. Probably not in a daily way that I was at one time, but in a weekly way.

I've realized that I need this space again. The summer has been full of ups and downs and has been consumed largely by our move to a new house. My moods have been down more than usual, and I feel like I need to write to keep myself on the up and up.

I've realized the power of words - to hurt, to heal, to make whole. And also the power of silence. There is something very healing for me to type words on a page. And if these words can give just one other person a bit of a balm to their day - even better.

And now here I am, the first day of school. Part of me is really sad about the start of the school year. It makes me wonder if we squeezed enough out of this summer. But as I look back, I realize that we did many, many things that felt summer-y and oh-so-good to me. Like:

* visiting Kawartha Dairy for some chocolate peanut butter ice cream

* going on a hike at a new spot - this summer to Eagle's Nest and Egan's Chutes near Bancroft, Ontario

* canoeing on a still lake - even better, at night during a full moon

* swimming in a northern lake - even better, at night during a full moon

* finding monarch caterpillars, watching them turn to chrysalises and releasing the butterflies (we cared for 3 this summer)

* spending time with friends and renewing old friendships

* family camp at Fraser Lake Camp

* sleeping in a tent, reading by flashlight

* fishing (didn't catch a thing, but it's the process, not the product - right?)

* making s'mores over a campfire

* spending time at cottages with family

* spending evenings chatting on our new porch (old porch, but new house to us)

* making nature crafts (it's amazing what hot glue, imagination, and googly eyes can make)

* catching frogs, minnows, toads, and crayfish

* making giant bubbles

* making fresh pesto

* eating paella on a perfect summer evening

* watching the sunset on the lake

* counting the stars

* writing in the air with sparklers

* discovering a new bakery (that sells macarons, which we hadn't had since our time in France)

* going rock collecting at this cool place that looks tacky but was a pile of fun

* eating wild raspberries

* quietly watching a deer from only 15 feet away

* jumping from a jumping tower

* floating on my back in a lake and completely forgetting about everything

* planting new things in our backyard

* lying in a hammock, watching squirrels fight and hummingbirds flit around

* reading a novel (hasn't happened in a long, long while)

* tie-dying t-shirts

* watching street performers

* riding the ferris wheel

* eating cotton candy

* building an inukshuk

* doing a belly flop

There. I feel better already. I really DID have a summer. Phew! When I look at this kids' bucket list, I love that there are many things on there that we did this summer.

And now I can enter this new day, this new school year at a brand new school for my girls, knowing that we played, we relaxed, we summered well.

What are your favourite summer memories? Or things on your must-do list in the summer?