Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A black skirt and an old friend

I’m wearing one of my favourite skirts today. It’s long and black and funky, with embroidered designs and black beads around the bottom. It’s filmy and flowing – like a peasant skirt without the wrinkles.

I’ve had this skirt for about 14 years. It hung in the back of my closet for quite awhile, abandoned because the elastic was shot and I didn’t bother to fix it for a long time. But now it’s been revived and it’s back near the front of the closet where it gets pulled out and worn nearly once a week. I like to wear it with a black shirt and a purple silk scarf slung jauntily around my neck.

The skirt was a gift from Kari, my room-mate and best friend at the time. She spent a few months in London, during which time she sent me raunchy postcards from Soho, and when she came back, she brought me the skirt.

I miss Kari. I think it’s been ten years since I saw her. She came to visit me in the hospital when Nikki was born, and I think that’s the last I saw of her. Maybe because I got caught up in starting a family (Julie came shortly after Nikki, so I got a little overwhelmed), and got too busy to invest much energy in friendships, we drifted apart. She moved around a bit, I lost her phone number, and now I no longer know how to find her.

A couple of years ago, I was walking from work to the University to meet Marcel, and when I got there, he said “you’ll never guess who I just saw.” It was Kari, and she was carrying a little boy – her son. She was running late and didn’t have time to wait to see me, so I missed her. She didn’t leave her number. Poof, she disappeared again. I didn’t get to see her little boy.

I don’t have a very good track record for hanging onto friends. They either move away, or we drift apart, and I don’t bother to call. It makes me sad. I’ve had some incredible friends over the years – soulmates who own pieces of my heart – but I’ve let them float away into the great unknown.

Kari was one of the best. We had so much fun together. She brought out the “crazy” in me, because she was much more uninhibited than me. We told each other wild secrets, we kept each other sane when our other roommate was driving us crazy, we marched in protests together, we stayed up late laughing and concocting weird food combinations – we did all the things twenty-something girls are supposed to do when they share an apartment and haven’t gotten weighed down with a lot of responsibilities yet.

I think I should look Kari up again – call her parents or something. I need to let her know I still wear the skirt and I still think of her whenever I do.

Kari – if you stumble across this blog, call me.

Monday, May 29, 2006

When God shows up for church

God was at church Sunday morning. Imagine that! I don’t think God always bothers to show up at church, because people don’t necessarily want him there. Actually, he probably shows up anyway, and waits in the wings for someone to invite him in, but sometimes he leaves disappointed because no-one makes space for him.

This Sunday, he was there, eager to meet us when we arrived. It started with the music. He liked the music. I think he liked the fact that we mixed it up a bit and had the music team play from the back of the room.

He was there when I got up to welcome the gatherers. I could see him smiling from the rain outside the window. He chuckled while I prayed, and let loose a mighty crash of thunder just before I said amen.

He was there when Rob got up to speak too. I think he likes hearing Rob speak, because he knows authenticity when he sees it. He recognizes the humility in Rob’s heart, just like the rest of us do. Humility makes him feel like he's got something to work with.

When everyone was finished speaking and singing, and there was silence, he seemed especially happy. He likes it when we shut up for a change and let him get a word in edge-wise. He doesn’t always get it why we think we have to fill so much of our time with words. He keeps hoping that humans will evolve in our ability and willingness to communicate in the stillness.

He came with me to the centre of the labyrinth and knelt beside me on the floor. As I walked back to the edges, he stuck beside me, reminding me he’s not just a “centre of the labyrinth” kind of god. I didn’t talk much and neither did he. We just hung out as we walked. I enjoyed the company and he did too.

He was in the kids’ room too, watching them make shields out of cardboard and tinfoil. I think he probably has the most fun there, because kids know how to be real and don’t stop to worry about whether they’re “doing church right”. He likes to hear them laugh and he takes pleasure in the dancing and creativity. Sometimes, he just stays in the Kidventure room, because it gets a little stuffy and boring where the adults are.

He hung around after church too, because he really likes potlucks. There’s something about people gathering around a table, he says, that makes him want to stick around. Potlucks are some of his favourite moments, because people share food, eat together, have good conversations, exchange recipes, clean up together and just basically “do community” without putting on a big show or getting all formal on him.

Even after the potluck, he lingered, because he wanted to be with us while we celebrated the newest member of our church family. He loves celebrations – especially where children are concerned. There’s something about a baby celebration that makes him feel all warm and fuzzy and, most of all, hopeful.

After church, he climbed into our cars with us and offered to stick with us for the rest of the week. Some of us took him along, and some of us told him we’d prefer it if he’d stay at church until next Sunday.

(Note: feel free to substitute "she" for "he" in the above. I don't think God minds.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006


So, Marcel, my dear husband, sent me this link today. Do you think perhaps he doesn't want me to jump? :-)

Friday, May 26, 2006

I guess it's just not my day today

First of all, I arrived at work on my bike (in biking attire), went to the bathroom to change into my work attire, and discovered that I'd forgotten to bring a shirt to wear under my blazer. So here I am, wearing my stinky biking t-shirt under a businessy suit. And wouldn't ya know it - there's a stain on the collar of the shirt because I wore this particular stinky sweaty biking t-shirt the last time I coloured my hair.

And why am I WEARING a businessy suit when I usually dress more casually? Well, I had to "work the booth" at a United Church conference this morning, and thus had to do some of that small talk that I loathe. Standing at a booth trying to engage people who are trying to avoid your eye is not my idea of a good time, ESPECIALLY when I'm feeling self-conscious about wearing a stained stinky sweaty bike shirt.

AND as I was walking to the conference - a little late because I'd tried to buy a cheap replacement shirt at a bargain store but had no luck - I decided to jaywalk to get there a little faster. I started to dart across the street, and realized that I would be obstructing the traffic that was turning and had the right of way. Not only that, but one of the cars stopped at the intersection was a POLICE CAR. Fortunately, he had better things to do than give me a jaywalking ticket.

I think I'll spend the rest of the afternoon in my office hiding in my stinky stained not-so-sweaty-anymore biking shirt.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chatting with strangers

With 2 of our daughters on soccer teams which play on alternate nights, we spend a majority of our evenings sitting on the sidelines of soccer fields these days. It’s not a bad way to spend an evening. We usually bike there and back, so it’s been a great way to get the family out for bike rides. It’s been a pleasant spring – very little rain, and just a few really cool days.

Because we usually go as a family, Maddie has no choice but to come along. She doesn’t mind, especially when it’s a field with a play-structure close by or when Julie’s best friend’s little sister is there for her to play with.

Last night was one of those nights when there was neither play structure nor best friend’s little sister in the near vicinity. So, because she’s not particularly enthralled with soccer yet, she had to find her own entertainment.

For awhile, she borrowed books from the mom next to us who’d come well supplied with Dr. Suess books for her young daughter. Then she bugged me to get her soccer ball out of the car (the game was in Lorette – a little far to bike) and she played with that. Then, when she spotted three kids playing not far away, she ran off to join them. Before long, she’d offered up her soccer ball and they were making up soccer “rules” to imitate their older sisters.

Sometimes, I wish I had Maddie’s boldness. She has always assumed people will like her. Unlike our other 2 daughters, she has no qualms about marching up to unfamiliar children and engaging them in play. She happily borrows books from a strange mom, never worrying whether she is doing the “right” thing. She’ll speak to almost anyone, and only has very rare moments of shyness.

The thing is – when you go through life assuming people will like you, people usually DO. People are drawn to confidence and boldness. Maddie has always made friends easily, and so far I haven’t witnessed any kids being turned off by her straightforward approach. She’s not pushy or anything, just friendly. (No, she’s not perfect either – she WAS getting a little bossy with the soccer rules last night. :-)

I wish, when I entered an unfamiliar place full of unfamiliar faces, that I could be as bold as she is. I wish I could walk in, confident that when I stopped to introduce myself to a stranger, that person would quickly become my friend.

It’s not that I’m particularly insecure. In fact, I think I come across as quite confident. It’s probably a little ironic, though, that I’m more comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd than I am speaking one-on-one with a stranger. That’s probably why people assume that I’m confident – because I’m a fairly natural public speaker.

I’m just not a great conversation starter. I don’t handle small talk well. I worry about not being interesting enough. I worry about tripping over my tongue and coming across as stupid. I rarely assume people will like me, and usually assume they’d rather be talking to someone else.

I work at it, because I know that I’m always glad when someone takes the time to engage me in conversation and so therefore assume they’d be glad when I do the same for them. It’s just not a very natural thing for me, so it makes me feel awkward. Funny, I know, that I’ve chosen a career in communications when I have trouble talking to strangers at a party for fear of tripping over my tongue. The thing is, I can communicate quite confidently and boldly when I KNOW what I’m communicating about. I’ve even talked quite comfortably with Prime Ministers, because I had a purpose (it’s kinda fun telling Prime Ministers what to do :-). I just have trouble when I’m forging unfamiliar territory and “small talk” is my only tool. To tell you the truth, some people probably think I’m snobby, because I come across as confident on the stage, and then I don’t engage well in conversation when I get off the stage.

It’s the same thing for blogs. When I go on the “popular” blogs – the ones with 25 or more comments on a regular basis – I rarely leave comments. I assume they’ve got enough interesting people surrounding them – they don’t need boring old me. If I make chatty comments, and trip over my tongue/keyboard, perhaps they’ll think “what is SHE doing on my blog?” And yet, I KNOW it's silly, because I know how much I love and value comments, even if it's just a simple acknowledgement that you've been here.

I suppose we all have elements of insecurity. Some people are amazed that I can get up in front of a crowd and speak without stumbling, and then I, in turn, am amazed at how comfortable they are chatting with strangers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Whew! I DO have passion after all!

According to the Triple P quiz, I am passion-driven. The problem is not (as I stated before) that I don't have passion, it's that I'm not "purpose-driven". No WONDER Rick Warren's humongous best seller (that nearly everyone else thinks is the secret to true happiness) sits half-read on my shelf! Which p are you? (passion, purpose, or profit driven)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Only 39 things to go

Well, I can strike one thing off the list.
That's right, I got my nose pierced! On my birthday. I wanted to do this when I was 20, but then I chickened out and convinced myself I didn't have the right nose for it. Lately, I started wanting it again, and now that I'm 40, it no longer matters whether my nose is "right" or not. That's the beauty of being 40 - you get a little more comfortable with who you are and a little less concerned about fitting other people's expectation of you.

I guess you could call it a mid-life crisis. At least it's cheaper than a fast car, and less disruptive (not to mention stupid) than an affair. :-)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lucky me

I have the greatest sister in the world. She did 2 awesome things for my birthday. She posted this cool list of great moments we've shared. And she gave me these 40 things for my birthday...

As she mentions in the list, we've been to 3 plays together in London and 3 in New York, so a Playbill bag is just the COOLEST!

Thanks, ccap!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ode to my 40 year old body, on its birthday

To my hands
You've been ever so faithful, all of these years. You've soothed the brows of feverish children, you've washed alot of dishes, and scrubbed alot of floors. You've carried burdens, and gotten dirt under your finger nails. You've proudly worn your wedding ring for nearly 13 years. You don't look so young any more - you look well used. It's the way you should look at 40. You've written alot of stories, with pen or keyboard. You may not be the originator of thoughts, but you've put them to paper many, many times.

To my feet, my lovely little feet
I've always loved you, my little ones. You've carried me so many places. You've climbed mountains and held me up on waterskis. You've run to catch airplanes and trains. You were always my pride and joy. I particularly loved the way you often fit into bargain bin shoes that most people couldn't squeeze into. You've let me down a little lately, though - made me buy orthotics and expensive shoes. I guess you're making up for all the money you saved me. But maybe I let you down by not taking enough care of you in my youth - by squeezing you into shoes that were too narrow. I put you to the test early on already - forcing you to walk more than 20 miles in the walk-a-thon when you were only six. Thanks for putting up with my need to wander.

To my eyes
Ah, my lovely eyes. I've always been happy that you were blue, and that you were steady and strong, never needing glasses (yet). You've seen alot of things these 40 years. You've stopped me in my tracks so that I wouldn't miss the beauty of a rainbow or a shimmering butterfly. You've cried alot of tears - tears of sadness, pain, joy, frustration, and shame. You've kept watch over our children and helped protect them from danger. You are faithful and true, my lovely blue eyes.

To my breasts
I'll be frank, my dear breasts - I've never been particularly fond of you. You're too big, too floppy, and you sag nearly to my waist. I've never been able to squeeze you into department store bras. You made me go to specialty stores to buy genuine over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders. You've caused permanent indentations in my shoulders because of your wieght. You are a burden. Ah, but perhaps I've been unfair, dear old things. You've patiently suckled three babies and provided plenty of milk to keep them healthy and happy. You were faithful and true, even when you ached or the nurses said your nipples were too flat to properly feed a baby. (Boy, did YOU prove them wrong!) You've carried the pain of unused milk when our little Matthew died. You've been steadfast and reliable, and I thank you for that, dear old breasts.

To the little crease between my eyebrows
I'm not quite sure what I think of you, little crease. You're one of the latest additions to this 40 year old body. You look a lot like a worry line, and I was sure I'd have laugh lines before I'd get worry lines. I'm a little surprised at you, permanently embedding yourself into the architecture of my face. But perhaps I should be proud of you. Perhaps I should wear you with pride. You show the pain I've lived through - pain of loss, of death, of heartache. You carry my worries and proclaim to the world that I have survived. I won't botox you away, little crease. You give me depth and paint wisdom on my face.

To my mouth
Ah, dear mouth, we've had alot of fun together, you and I. We've eaten much, talked much, and laughed much. You've comforted children with soothing tones. You've spoken to crowds and offered advice to lots of people. You've smiled at your husband and offered him kisses and encouragement. You never figured out how to sing well, but I forgive you for that. You've given me contentment as I offered you delicious food. Sometimes we got a little carried away, you and I, and didn't know when enough was enough. But we're still learning, even after 40 years of trying to get it right. You are good to me, dear mouth.

To my body
We've lived through 40 years together, dear body of mine. I admit, I haven't always been fair to you. I forced you to carry too much weight, and then berated you for being heavy. I'm sorry for that. I'll try to do better in the next 40 years. But it's been good, hasn't it, dear body? We've seen alot of interesting places, carried babies - both inside and out, worked hard, played well, rested now and then, and found contentment. We've found ways to indulge our passions, satisfy our curiosity, please our friends, and live a good life. Here's to the next 40 years together. May they be as good as the last 40 have been.

Friday, May 19, 2006

40 things I want to do before I die

Sky dive
Go on a bike trip around Eastern Canada
Publish a book
Take my daughters back-packing in Europe
Eat Thai food in Thailand
Have a career as a freelance writer
Own a house with a verandah (yes, D&L, I’m jealous)
Learn to paint
Go on another trip with just my husband (re-living Quebec City would be nice)
Write a regular column in a magazine or newspaper
Travel to Brazil
Design my own website
Take another pottery workshop and get proficient on the wheel
Live in another country
Get better at photography
Take a hot-air balloon ride
Teach creativity workshops again
Go on another trip with my sister
Be the keynote speaker at a conference
Watch my children grow
Live close to water
Be a travel writer
Buy more Kenyan tea in Kenya
Get in touch with some old friends
Go on a bike trip in a foreign country
Consume less
Make more friends
Attend the Folk Festival at least 20 more times
Visit the Yukon and Alaska
Watch Marcel become a teacher
Learn to do batik
See giraffes in their natural habitat again
Be an interesting senior citizen
Take this creativity workshop in Provence
Go on another family trip with my extended family
Get my nose pierced
Take up horseback riding again
See the Cirque du Soleil
See the women my daughters become at 40

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gettin' ready

Just preparing another convert for the Folk Festival!
Introducing... my lovely niece Abigail who will join us for her first pilgrimage to the greatest festival on earth, come July!

Ho hum

I’m sitting here staring at my screen. Paralyzed. Wordless. I’ve opened the document named “annual report” a thousand times, and it still has nothing but a heading. I’ve started the first paragraph a few times, but I keep deleting it. I have nothing to say.

The curse of the professional communicator/writer has returned to haunt me. Once again, like every other job I’ve been in, I get to the second or third year that I have to write the same annual document, and I get bored. Seriously bored. It’s not just me either – almost everyone I know in this line of work has an attention span of about 3 years. We can usually stretch our interest in something to the second and even third year, but beyond that, we go plum stir crazy if we have to keep writing and communicating about the same thing over and over and over again.

I can write about almost anything for awhile. In my professional (ie. “paid”) career, I’ve had to write about veterans, agriculture, health, science, and now hunger. I’ve written press releases about commemorative events, communication plans about testing SARS on “non-human primates” (in other words, “how to tell the public we’re really injecting MONKEYS with the deadly SARS virus and then KILLING them, without getting PETA down our throats”), speeches for politicians dedicating new memorials, and articles about how the price we pay for bananas impacts small scale farmers in Africa. I’ve planned photo ops for two prime ministers, spoken to media from all over the world, organized press conferences on a myriad of topics, and advised senior level bureaucrats on the right thing to say without pissing off the Canadian public.

But… the problem is, I keep getting bored. B-O-R-E-D. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve had a career that would make many people swoon with envy. I’ve travelled all across Canada (several times) and even to Africa and Rome. I’ve met all kinds of dignitaries and other famous people. I’ve seen my name in print hundreds of times. I’ve heard my words spoken from the lectern by high level politicians.

But still, after about two years, the end result is the same. B-O-R-E-D. What is WRONG with me? Sheesh!

On June 3, I’ll have been in this job for 2 years. I thought FOR SURE this job would be different. I mean, I’m doing something meaningful for a change. I don’t have to feel like a government zombie anymore. I get to challenge and inspire people to help solve world hunger. I get to travel to developing countries. I get to do more public speaking than before. I get to make a difference. I get to flex my leadership skills. I get to…. oh man, it’s still not working. I’m still bored.

When you’re a professional communicator, you always end up working alongside people with a lot of passion, but you’re almost always on the outside. I’ve worked with scientists who’ve toiled for years and years, dedicated to the same task – finding a vaccine for AIDS. I’ve worked with social workers, spending their lives trying to make sure aging veterans receive all the benefits they are entitled to. I now work with people in non-profit, who are determined that some day ALL people will have enough food to eat. These people are PASSIONATE. They live and breathe whatever it is they’re passionate about – it gets in their bones. And for awhile, their passion infects me and I get passionate too. For about a year and a half, I was excited about aging veterans. For about a year and a half, I was excited about agriculture. For about a year and a half, I was excited about ending world hunger.

Seriously - what is my PROBLEM? WHY can’t I sustain any passion? Why do I keep flitting from one thing to another like a drunken firefly?

I guess it’s the curse of the writer. We love whatever we land on, and our firefly light shines into the nooks and crannies revealing interesting things hidden below, but then our wings get itchy and we know that if we stay, our light will slowly extinguish and we will die.

This little firefly doesn't want to die. I want to keep flying. But I may need to find other things to shine my firefly light on, or I’ll get dull. And restless.

No, I’m not quitting my job. When I started here, I told myself that I could give this place AT LEAST 5 years. I still have three years to go. Three more annual reports. Three more church mailouts. Three more cycles of newsletters. Three more… cringe.

After that, hopefully Marcel will be back in the workforce and I can quit and finally be a freelance writer. Then perhaps, if I write about a different topic ever week, I’ll finally be satisfied. At least for three years anyway. :-) Sigh.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Hit the road

See that bottom number? The one that says 500.00? Yes, that's the number of kilometres I've ridden my bike in the last month. Not bad, eh?

Actually, I've done a few more than that by now, but on the way to Home Depot tonight, the whole family had to stop while I took a picture - I wanted a nice round number :-)

My goal is to have the same legs I had the year I trained for the Tinman.

A (mostly) happy mother

It was a full and family-filled weekend. Julie was in a soccer tournament, and because her team ended up in the finals (which they lost 1-0, boohoo), they had 5 games. So a fair bit of time was spent shuffling back and forth to soccer fields (oh, and one trip to the hospital when she hurt her finger pretty badly and it looked like it was broken. We didn’t stay though, since they warned us that the wait would be 5-6 hours. And REALLY, what can they do for a broken finger other than wrap it up, just like I can do at home?)

Here are a few of my mother moments, most happy and a few sad.

- After a little coaxing from their dad, the oldest 2 girls each pitched in $5 and sent me off to a movie on Saturday night. What fun! A movie by myself! I saw Kinky Boots, which is quite enjoyable, in a Full Monty sort of way.

- Since the movie just HAPPENED to be in the same mall as my favourite bookstore, I wandered around the bookstore after the movie, and ended the evening with a yummy chai latte from the coffee shop in the bookstore.

- One little melancholy moment in the bookstore… while looking for a card for my sister (it’s her first mother’s day), I spotted a card that said something about journeys through life and had a picture of an old couple in a car on a journey together. I felt a lump form in my throat because today, my mom leaves on a 2 month trip to Holland with her husband - the man who is not my father. It still hurts sometimes that Mom and Dad didn’t get to grow old together.

- After the movie and the bookstore, I took the long way home and stopped at Matthew’s grave, partly because the melancholy still clung to me. In addition to missing Dad, I had a bit of a cry about the son I don’t get to mother. I remember the Mother’s Day after we lost Matthew. We ate dinner in the backyard, and there was a butterfly that kept landing on people’s heads as we ate. We said that it was the spirit of Matthew coming to remind his mother that things would be okay.

- At Matthew’s grave, I wrote out the card to my sister, ccap. It makes me happy that we now share motherhood.

- On Sunday morning, I was instructed to stay in bed, and before long, my breakfast arrived. Fresh cinnamon buns, fruit salad, a glass of milk, and a cup of tea. Yum, yum! The girls hopped into bed with me and we all ate breakfast together.

- For Mother’s Day – three home-made cards, three flower pens, a carnation, and a centrepiece. And best of all – three smiling faces proudly offering their gifts.

- I phoned my Mom yesterday, to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and bon voyage (they’re leaving from Alberta). It makes me sad that now there are so many things I don’t say to my Mom. I love her and I miss her. I don’t always remember to be kind to her.

- Marcel cooked his famous chicken parmigan for supper at his parents’ yesterday. Everyone else provided pasta, salads, and desserts and we had a lovely Mother’s Day feast.

Thus ends another Mother’s Day weekend. I am blessed.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

This is for Michele

I can TOO keep a plant alive!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sorry - I can't talk now - my mouth is full of cookie dough

Ummmmm... I LOVE cookie dough. When I was a kid, I used to wonder why we had to waste time baking the cookies when the dough tasted so much better than the cookies. So it's not hard to imagine that, now that I'm a mother, I don't have much trouble indulging my kids when they want to reach in and snatch a little cookie dough. In fact, we bought some white chocolate macadamia nut cookie dough from a school fundraiser, and none of it has gotten baked yet. Yes, that's the container above and it's nearly empty. After supper for the last several nights, the girls and I have gathered round with our spoons and enjoyed a little cookie dough dessert. Yummm! (Yeah, I've heard that it's not good to feed your kids raw eggs, but there are worse things they could be consuming - like, say, cocaine!)

I'm sure I'm not the only mom who indulges her kids in the things that are closest to her child-heart. In fact, my mom set a good standard in that regard. She was great at indulging us now and then in the things that other moms might have turned their noses up at. Her house might have been messy now and then, but she'd ignore it and sit down with us and read stories. Or, on a hot summer day, she'd bring a big bucket of water and some cups into the front yard and she'd join us in a water fight. She'd also let us eat a little cookie dough now and then (though I don't remember ever gathering around a bucket of it for dessert.)

There might be lots of things my kids will find to complain about me when they're grown, but at least they'll say "she let us eat cookie dough."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Sometimes I am a weak and foolish person.
Sometimes I hurt people because I jump to conclusions.
Sometimes I am impatient with my children.
Sometimes I approach motherhood like a duty and forget that it is a privilege.
Sometimes I don’t try hard enough to understand other people.
Sometimes I’m a know-it-all with too much pride.
Sometimes I forget to listen.
Sometimes I am lazy and slothful.
Sometimes I take people for granted and forget to appreciate them.
Sometimes I think only of myself.
Sometimes I gossip and forget that it hurts people.

“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what can be done with so much weakness.

One of my favourite books is The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Guide to Self-Discovery. It was a pleasant surprise, because I expected it to be just another feel-good-self-help book. Instead, I was challenged, because one of the most important lessons that I took away from it was that, to fully be ourselves, we need to recognize our weaknesses. I’m working on that.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A bird in the hand

This little fellow came to visit us tonight. After a collision with our window, he was a little stunned and quite docile. Anyone know what kind it is? He has a lovely greenish colour to him. (We'd just biked home from a soccer game - hence the bike gloves. The girls were brave enough to hold it with a glove on their hand.) We put him on a bench while we ate supper, and now he's gone. Hopefully, he flew away to a happy long life.

Just say no

Sometimes, it feels like the only thing I say to my kids is “no”. “No you can’t buy a gameboy.” “No, we’re not going to the store so you can foolishly spend all your birthday money.” “No, we’re not renting a movie tonight.” “No I’m not buying a bag of chips.” “No, we’re not going to a restaurant for supper tonight.” “No we’re not driving to your soccer game when it’s within biking distance.” “No you can’t take your tamagatchi to church.” “No we’re not going to 7-11 for a slurpee tonight.”

It feels heavy and, at times, curmudgeonly – like I’m forever denying them of their wants and desires. I know they’re happy and well provided for, but I get tired of the endless “wants” and the endless stream of “no’s”. Some of the parenting books say that you should avoid the word “no” and try to replace it with less negative words like “maybe later” or “I’ll think about it”. But that doesn’t really satisfy – it usually means that their requests just get prolonged even longer until they get the eventual “no”. I prefer to let them know up front that there’s no chance they’ll get what they’re asking for. If I’m open to negotiation, I let them know, but usually I reinforce the fact that “no means no”.

I don’t like it, and I wish that they would ask for less things that I have to deny them of, but then I think – perhaps it is “by my no’s that they shall know me”. Perhaps the no’s are important. Perhaps this is one of the ways they’ll learn what I stand for – that I (I should say “we” since Marcel is in this too) don’t believe in endless streams of plastic junk, electronic games that destroy their social connections, too much junk food, instant gratification whenever they have a hankerin’ for something new, burning too much fossil fuel when it’s easily avoidable, and spending too much money on ourselves when there are so many people with less.

I remember an Anne Lammott story about her son, when she commented that he just seemed so “entitled” – like he assumed that he would always get what he wanted and that someone would provide for him. We’re trying hard not to raise “entitled” kids. Trust me, they don’t live in abject poverty (we DO occasionally treat them to junk food, they have lots of toys, they get slurpees on the weekend, and once every six months or so, we eat in a restaurant). But sometimes I really have to be determined to stand my ground and not give in to the requests, especially if it’s something that is easy to give them (but might not be a good idea).

Take the other night, for example – Nikki was determined to spend some of her birthday money (which she doesn’t spend foolishly, by the way – her birthday was in February, and she still has most of it) on a Webkinz. She wanted me to take her to the store THAT NIGHT. I wasn’t opposed to what she wanted to buy, but I just didn’t think she needed to expect instant gratification. So I made her wait until the weekend. It resulted in tears, and part of me thought – good grief, why wouldn’t I just give in and take her? I could even bike to the store with her, so it wouldn’t mean burning gas and it wouldn't cost ME anything. But I stood my ground, because it was the principle of it that mattered. It doesn’t kill them to wait sometimes.

I have to admit – they don’t whine and complain a lot about the things they don’t have, even though most of their school friends have A LOT more than they do. So maybe we’re doing alright. Maybe they’ll turn out to be well adjusted kids with healthy attitudes toward material things. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to live more radically than we do – choosing a deeper level of simplicity to live out their belief systems. Who knows?

For now I’ll keep saying no when I have to. But I won’t say no all the time, because sometimes it’s nice to surprise them with a “yes”.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I just gotta ask...

Are there REALLY professional competitive eaters? And they have an international federation?? Huh?

If this 4 year old child can run 65 kilometres, why does MY 4 year old child whine about walking 2 blocks to the store?

Does anyone REALLY need a vibrating razor blade with five blades? (Wince. Sorry Marcel :-)

Snakes on a blog? Huh? People obsessed with a movie (Snakes on a Plane) that hasn't even come out yet? Nothing better to do with their time?

Is disposophobia for real? Are there really people living with that much junk? Aren't you glad you're not one of them?

If I get one of these kitschy Jesus figurines, will it wash all our sports worries away?

Why do so many spammers think I need to enlarge my manhood? And what's up with the green tea lately? If I had a large "manhood" and drank more green tea, would the spammers leave me alone?

If there are professional eaters and disposophobics, isn't it pretty clear that we have an overconsumption problem in North America?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A day away

Yesterday I took myself on a date. Partly because I needed some time and space to prepare my talk for church on Sunday, and partly because I’d promised myself I would do it before my 40th birthday (see 40 days ‘til 40), I went on a personal retreat. Villa Maria is a beautiful Catholic retreat centre in lush green park-like surroundings along the Red River. For a small donation, they give you a room with a bed, a desk, a sink, and a big window with an amazing view of trees, grass, and lots of dandelions. And they feed you lunch and let you sip tea in their dining room.

I’ve done this before, and each time I do I think “man, that was so good, I really need to do this on an annual basis”, and then I get busy again, and suddenly realize it’s been a few years since the last time.

What do I do on a personal retreat? Well, for starters, I sit. And then I sit some more. I meditate. I wander around the grounds. I sit in the grass and write in my journal. I listen to frogs. I watch the grass wave in the breeze. I meander past the stations of the cross. I let the sun shine on my face. I read my Bible. I read a few chapters of a good book. I visit the chapel and sit some more. I do some centering prayer. I contemplate. I write poetry. I eat lunch alone and stare out the window at dandelions. I drink tea in the afternoon and talk to one of the friendly nuns. I think. I rest. I let time tick by. I write in my journal again. I entertain creative thoughts. I get refreshed.

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? If you haven’t done one before, I highly recommend it. If you’ve done one before but haven’t found the time lately, sit down with your calendar, block out a day, and git yo’ ass to a retreat centre.

That perfect tranquillity of life, which is nowhere to be found but in retreat, a faithful friend and a good library. - Aphra Behn

Monday, May 01, 2006

Did anyone tell YOU?

Nobody told me about this. Nobody warned me that sometimes parenting could feel like you'd yanked your heart out of your chest, tied it to your arm, and let the world whack it with an axe. Nobody took me aside and said "hey, sometimes, you'll be sitting on the sidelines, watching them play soccer (or baseball, or even piano), and the intense feelings it will evoke in you will make you want to run away and never watch a soccer game again." (Okay, so maybe they told me and I didn't really hear them.)

It catches you by surprise, that intensity of feelings. Every failure they make dredges up your own childhood failings. Every time the rather agressive coach hollers at them because they're not playing their position or they're not aggressive enough, you feel it deep in your hidden child-heart. And when the coach sends them into goal, and you know with every fibre of your being, that they are not ready to play goal - not ready to get in front of the ball with any type of bravado on their first game - you sit on the edge of your seat praying the ball will stay on the other side of the field. Then the ball goes in - the star player on the other team kicks it past your daughter - and the failure of your child becomes your own failure. Every mistake you've ever made becomes compounded in that one moment and you feel like somehow your own mistakes are manifesting themselves onto your child.

Suddenly, you're back in the ball diamond at Arden Park, you're in the outfield, you've missed the ball, and the opposing team scores a home run. The mean girl in centre field yells at you for missing the ball, and you're sure you're the worst failure on the team. You go home crying at the end of the game, and your mom says you don't have to go back for the next game, but because you're more stubborn than that, you're determined not to let the mean girl win. You go back, and you try again, even though you know you'll never be the star player on the team and you know there will be more mean girls to point out your failures.

And then, thirty years later, when you think you've almost grown out of those moments of self-doubt, it all comes back to you like a tsunami wave. You watch them - your children - with such intense love and connection that you feel their hurt almost more deeply than if it had been you standing in that goal, watching the ball fly by. You feel it and you want to fight the tears for them. You want to take the shame you're sure they're carrying - shame that they've let their teammates down.

I dreaded the car ride home tonight - dreaded her tears and self-doubt, dreaded her proclamation that she would never play soccer again, dreaded the feable attempts I knew I'd have to make to comfort her. But then, she bounded off the field, smiled a half-smile, and said simply "I thought I'd try goal, but I don't really like it. I don't think I'll play goal next time." That was the end. No tears, no intensity. She's a trooper, my strong, beautiful, normally intense Nikki.

It's probably a good thing nobody told me about this. I might have baled out before it began, and then I would have missed the moments of redemption and triumph, when you see their incredible character and strength shine through even their moments of failure, and you know they'll be alright. Better than alright. You know they'll be incredible.

Whatever pops into my head

I had a speaking engagement in a small prairie town yesterday – similar to the small prairie town I grew up in. (I was in Boissevain, for those who know Manitoba.) I love living in the city, and I don’t ever plan to go back to the country, but sometimes I get a little nostalgic when I drive through a small town, see the old school, old church, and the little country store at the centre of town. The church I spoke in was a beautiful old stone structure with stained glass windows and a magnificent steeple. I’m sure sometimes it frustrates the locals to be in such an old building that needs so much tender loving care, but when I visit a place like that, I’m always so glad there are people who put their hearts into maintaining it.

When we arrived at our destination, we drove onto the farmyard of the people who were hosting us for supper. The woman came out of the house and told us her husband was in the shed, helping their nine year old daughter clear a corner of the shed so she could convert it into a summer playroom for herself. We wandered out to the shed and found them in there shuffling things about. The young girl had salvaged a set of old school house benches for her playroom corner. Again, I got a feeling of nostalgia. Sometimes I’m a little sad that my kids can’t grow up on a farmyard where there is so much space for exploring and building and playing. (D&L, expect our visit this summer!)

On Saturday, because we’d gotten an insurance rebate and had a little extra spending money, we took the girls out for supper. Of course, they probably would have been satisfied with Joey’s Only or the Olive Garden, but I was determined to make it a little more interesting. Since we can only afford to go out for a meal once every six months or so, I wasn’t going to waste our opportunity on some chain restaurant. We drove out of the city and ended up at Pineridge Hollow, a wonderful character place out in the woods. It was everything I’d hoped for and more – a nice evening with the family, AMAZING food, a pleasant environment, a lovely drive out to the country, and even a few deer spottings on the way. Oh, and of course, there was that inevitable restaurant moment when Maddie charms complete strangers and makes us wonder when she’ll end up going home with a new family.

Julie had her first soccer game yesterday. They say there’s something about a man in uniform that makes a woman’s heart skip a beat, but I say there’s something about a kid in uniform. My kids aren’t really big into competitive sports yet (I doubt whether they ever will be), but I do enjoy seeing them all dressed up in their soccer outfits. Look for pictures soon. I didn’t get to watch much of the game (because of the speaking engagement I mentioned earlier), but this morning I got the report that they’d won.

Nikki is getting SO tall. She stood next to me in church, and when I put my arm around her, I was caught by surprise how high my arm had to reach. She’s nearly as tall as I am. Seems like the little girl has disappeared and been replaced by this maturing young woman.

The girls and I visited the annual Children’s Hospital book sale – a booklover’s dream. It was the last day of the sale, so we got some great bargains – a whole bag of books for Nikki and Julie for only $5. (That was a HEAVY backpack to carry home from the mall!) I was hoping that would last them most of the summer, but since Julie has already read 2 of them, she thinks it won’t even last her UNTIL summer. Good thing the library is within biking distance.

We attended my nephew’s first communion service on Saturday. The service was all in French, so the content was lost on me. But despite that, if it hadn’t been for three bored children with me in the pew, I think I would have had quite a worshipful experience. Our church meets in an old supermarket (in other words, it lacks in worshipful ambiance), so sometimes I quite enjoy a visit to a grand cathedral with high ceilings, stained glass windows, stations of the cross, art work, etc. What I particularly loved were the magical moments the sunlight would stream through unseen stained glass windows high above the stage and cast an interesting pattern on the wall and the statue of Christ. Maddie was quite captivated with it too, and kept exclaiming each time the clouds would move away from the sun and the light would appear. The other moments I loved were the moments when the old woman behind us, who caught on I couldn’t speak French, would occasionally lean forward to explain something to me in the most friendly, grandmotherly voice.

Today is my Brother and Sister-in-law’s anniversary. Happy Anniversary B&S! Wow! Twenty-four years! I remember the day well – my sister and I wore yellow frilly floral floor-length dresses (a vision of loveliness!), and we were the candle-lighters. As I ascended the stage, I tripped on the hem of my skirt and had visions of burning the church down with the candle I was carrying. Fortunately, I was able to catch myself before I fell. At the time, B&S seemed so OLD. I was almost sixteen, and they were the ripe old age of 20 and 21. Now I think – what KIDS they were! I’m so glad they’ve had a successful marriage for so many years, because my sister-in-law is one of my favourite people in the whole world. (AP – thanks for forgiving me for insulting you when Technobrother brought you home to the farm :-)

It is also my Mom’s anniversary. It’s rather surreal having a brother married twenty-four years and a mother who’s been married only one. It’s been a whirlwind year for mom, and it’s nice to see her so happy. They’re off to Holland soon – she finally gets to do a little more of the traveling she always longed to do (yes, I inherited my wanderlust, as did the rest of my siblings).

That should be enough random bits to feed your curious mind (and perhaps to bore you to pieces). And, in case you need a little visual random bit, here’s a lovely, flattering picture of me speaking in church. The not-so-strategically placed cordless mic box nicely compliments my frumpy housewife look. (Oops - Blogger doesn't want to cooperate, so you'll have to wait for the picture.)