Monday, July 31, 2006


We've all heard horror stories about nosy, intrusive in-laws who don't know their place or don't offer much support. Well, you won't hear any of those horror stories from me.

I am blessed when it comes to in-laws. Truly blessed. In all respects - in my own family (sisters-in-law and brother-in-law) and Marcel's. They are good people - all of them.

Yesterday, we celebrated Marcel's parents' 45th anniversary and his dad's 70th birthday. Once again, I was reminded how lucky I am to have married into a good family. They are loyal, supportive, kind, generous, trustworthy, and gracious. They have always supported me and treated me well. They have done alot for us in our 13 years of marriage. No, they're not wealthy and cannot shower us with material goods, but they give us a great deal of moral support which is worth alot more than the financial support would ever be.

In celebration of this special occasion, we honoured them in the way that we all knew would mean the most to them. We kept it small (they HATE to have a fuss made over them and are not fond of big parties), we didn't make them the centre of attention (except for a small announcement by the train conductor), and we didn't spend a huge amount of money on them. Our special day was spent riding the Prairie Dog Central, a delightful vintage train that takes you out into the country and stops at 2 small towns where there are farmers' markets and small-town entertainment. It was about as good as it gets - a slow pace, a picnic lunch, a few treats along the way, and a day spent with their children and grandchildren.

Today, after the festivities were over and most of the family had gone back to work, Marcel and I and the girls went to help his parents with some of the yard work. They still have a big yard in the country, and it's getting harder and harder for them to keep up with all the work. Marcel's been helping them out a fair bit lately, and today, since I'm on holidays, I went along.

It's a little hard for Marcel to watch them getting older. His dad is having trouble with his legs. Instead of walking to the garden at the back of the property, he rides his lawn tractor back and forth. He still keeps a big garden (partly because he likes to share the bounty with his kids), but it's getting harder and harder for him to maintain it. Julie and I helped pick peas today, and later Marcel's mom said she thought he enjoyed the company as much as he appreciated the help. Either way, I'm glad we did it.

There was a golden moment this afternoon that I wish I'd had a camera for. I was the last one in the garden (the heat was getting a bit unbearable for Marcel's dad and Julie) and when I walked back to the house, Marcel's parents and our three daughters were sitting in lawnchairs under the shade of a big maple tree. They were shelling peas together, talking and laughing as they did. I just stood and watched for awhile, feeling so blessed to have these good people in my life and my daughters' lives.

As they get older, their world is getting increasingly smaller. They don't go out much, can't get around as much as they once could, and never travel farther than the city where we live (about half an hour from their place in the country). They don't feel the need for travel or expensive things. They have few hobbies (Dad loves his garden and his lawn tractors, Mom reads the newspaper diligently). Their lives are fairly simple. But they are content with what they have. They're happy when their children visit, and their greatest joy is their grandchildren.

They're not perfect. They've made mistakes along the way (name one parent who hasn't). But I thank God for them and for the many ways they've blessed me since I joined the family. I am lucky to have them as in-laws and my children are lucky to have them as grandparents.

(And now, if only Blogger would cooperate, I'd add a picture. Maybe later.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Thanks to the generosity of my father-in-law and his bountiful garden, we shelled, chopped blanched, and bagged four bags of peas and eight bags of beans today. It's not a huge amount, but it's a start.

I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a gardener. It's true. I don't have the patience for it. When we first got married and bought our first house, we had a garden for awhile, because I just thought that's what you do when you start a family. After all, I was raised by salt-of-the-earth farmers with Mennonite work ethics and values - surely I could at least manage a garden. Once we started having kids, though, and I kept working full time, I gave up, realizing I wasn't very good at it and it was just adding unnecessary stress to my life.

But I've realized, despite my lack of gardening skills, that I quite enjoy the "laying up for the winter". There's something so grounding and "earth-motherish" about storing away food for your family.

I'm enjoying it so much, in fact, that I might consider trying a vegetable garden again next summer. I may have come up with a solution. I don't mind the planting or the harvesting, but I suck at the maintenance stuff. Julie really enjoys gardening, and so she may have her first mini part time job. I told her I'd consider hiring her to keep the garden from dying and the weeds from taking over. Between the two of us, we might be able to make it work.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Life is too expensive (warning: whining ensues)

I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks. Initially, we’d planned to go on a family trip. At first we’d thought of going east – to visit our nation’s capital (Ottawa) and maybe make it as far as the coast. We almost always travel west and have never taken our kids east. But then our budget didn’t match our vision, so we had to scale down. Instead, we planned a trip west again – to Calgary and then to Abbotsford, B.C. – because we have lots of friends and family along the way and could spend less money on accommodations.

Alas, it was not to be. Lift just got too expensive. Around the same time we found out our childcare for Maddie for the coming year was going to cost us a couple of limbs, we also found out we owed our highly-paid-pump-‘em-out-like-an-assembly-line orthodontist an additional $3500 to put braces on Nikki’s teeth. (Yes, I said ADDITIONAL – he’s already gotten more of our money than I care to part with. And no, our insurance doesn’t cover it.) Add to that Marcel’s tuition for the coming year, and all those other pesky expenses (like making sure our children have food to eat) and our trip plans went the way of the dodo bird. Extinct. Kaput. Bye bye.

Sigh. Sometimes, I get discouraged with how much everything costs and how far we are from “getting ahead”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the decision to go from 2 incomes to 1 so that Marcel could go to school, nor do I regret the choices we’ve made to simplify our lifestyles and cut out some of our superfluous expenses. It’s just that sometimes I wish it were easier. Every six months or so, we look at our expenses and try to figure out what else we can cut to make it a little easier to make it to the end of the pay period without draining the accounts dry, but by now it feels like we’ve cut pretty well everything we CAN cut. Extra vehicle? Gone. Cell phone? Cut. Dinners in restaurants? Almost entirely extinct (except maybe once every six months on special occasions). Camper? Sold. Cleaning person? History. Vacations? Not any more. Electricity? Perhaps we could light our house with candles. Water bill? Don’t think my colleagues would appreciate it if I cut out showers.

Before you say “c’mon Heather, grab some perspective – there are people starving in Africa and you’re whining about a vacation” – yeah I know. I KNOW. I’ve SEEN those people in Africa. I’ve even delivered food to them, remember? I’ve met people like Paulina who barely have enough food for their kids, let alone a table to put it on. Believe me, my whining is not without some measure of guilt. But even though I’ve seen it, I still get bummed out when, once again, we have to tell the kids we won’t be going far from home this year – AGAIN.

Oh, I’ll get over it. And I’m sure we’ll have a perfectly lovely vacation right here at home. We’ll go to the beach, go for bike rides, visit our family, go camping (in a tent) near a lake somewhere – trust me, we’ll have fun. I just wish it were the more EXPENSIVE kind of fun, that’s all.

Trying to make the best of it and maintain a good attitude, I’m going to the bookstore at lunch time to buy this book. We’ll plan some interesting day-trips and in the end, I’ll probably say “oh this was JUST AS MUCH FUN as a visit to the coast would have been!” I hope.

p.s. On a happier note, an article that’s basically the same as this post appears in this week’s edition of the Western Producer. (Sorry – unless you’re a farmer in Western Canada, you probably can’t get it.) So it seems that, even though the money gods have thumbed their collective noses in my direction, the publishing gods are smiling at me. Now if only the publishing gods would convince the money gods to work together so that I’d get paid some real money for what I get published. I’m not talking the kind of money that buys me a couple of books or takes our family out for a rare meal in a restaurant – I’m talking the kind of money that pays for braces or preschool!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Too good to be true

Well, our fabulous childcare plan is unraveling at the seams. Kari is still very willing to take Maddie in the afternoons, but the plan hinged on getting her into the preschool program that Kari's daughter is going to in the mornings. Turns out this preschool program, which is offered by the local school division free of charge to people like Kari who live in the neighbourhood, will cost us $4000. Yes, FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS!!! That's $20/day for a half day program. That's almost as much as Marcel's university tuition! And this is the public school system, not a posh private school.

What doesn't make sense is that in our school division, there is no free preschool program offered, as far as I know. The only option we have is the preschool program through the local community centres. And you have to pay for that. So here we are, living in the same city, with the same provincial education system, and she gets a free program in her neighbourhood, and we get nothing. Zippo. Nada.

For that kind of money, we might as well rent a cheap apartment in the school's neighbourhood, use that as our address, and give the space away to a homeless person. At least we'd be doing a good deed in the process!

The kicker is that there are spaces available in the preschool program. Spaces that probably won't be filled. But rather than let our kid in for free like the other kids in the neighbourhood, they'll leave the spaces open. Sheesh.

Anyone have any ideas how to challenge the system?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Rain, rain, beautiful rain

It's been so long since it rained around here that the girls and I couldn't resist running outside and dancing in it!

To the good people at iPod

First of all, just let me say thank you for making a great product. My husband is thoroughly enjoying his new toy. He's already downloaded hundreds of songs, and because there's so much room, he even downloads a few for our daughters to enjoy. His great enjoyment of his iPod is obvious when we see him wandering around the house and yard singing at the top of his lungs to the music that's only in his head. Last night, he was lying on the couch chuckling, and though it looked like he'd misplaced his marbles, it was simply because he'd added some Monty Python to his iPod. So trust me when I say that your product is much enjoyed in our household.

There's just one tiny niggling thing I'd like you to address though. I'm wondering, with your access to vast numbers of brilliant electronics engineers, if you could possibly consider adding a new feature to your iPods. What I'd like to suggest is this... do you think you could install an automatic "wife speaking" shutdown mode? Here's how it works - in all other respects, the iPod works like normal, but the minute the wife (or spouse, perhaps) begins to speak, the sound is turned off instantly and the wearer of the iPod is left with only the lovely sounds of his wife's voice in his ear.

You see, I'm a little tired of talking to myself when I THINK my husband's in the room attentively listening to me. I've said some brilliant, thought-provoking things, only to discover that he never heard a word of it and I might as well be talking to the drapery. I'm also getting a little tired of waving my arms in front of his face when I need his attention, and I'm SURE he's a little tired of me tugging the earphones out of his ears and shouting "Hey iPod boy!"

I'm sure you wouldn't regret adding this new feature to your product. Think of all the parents who would be thrilled to be able to use a "parent speaking" mode and actually get the attention of their engrossed teens. I know a few parents, and at least one wife, who will be forever in your gratitude. You may even sell a few extra to those parents who have been reluctant in the past.

So what do you think - can you do it?

Monday, July 24, 2006


So many times, we hear negative things about teenagers – how much trouble they are, how much trouble they cause, how hard they are to raise. Having a couple of pre-teens, Marcel and I are often warned about the teen years and so we’ve assumed it was a time to dread. We’ve heard all the horror stories of teen angst, troubles in school, hormones, drug and alcohol abuse, etc., and it doesn’t look pretty. "Just you wait" is a commonly-heard phrase.

Lately, however, I’ve been struck by the number of really decent likeable teenagers around us, and I have been hugely encouraged. Last night was a good example. We were at a barbecue at our friends’ Yvonne and George’s along with a few other families. Our kids were the youngest ones there. After supper, while the adults relaxed on the deck, watching the sun set over the trees (aaahhhh :-), the kids played a rousing game of soccer in their large backyard.

Nikki and Julie played with the group of mostly teen boys, and it was a delight to watch. Either they were just exceptional teens and they would have turned out well regardless, or our friends are doing a bang-up job of raising decent teens. They were so great to our girls. And not just in a patronizing “we have to be nice to the young kids because the adults are watching” kind of way, but in a respectful, generous, “we like hanging out with these kids” way. I was really touched by it, and I know that my girls felt genuinely valued as members of the soccer teams.

I guess that’s part of the beauty of raising kids in a meaningful community, where people of all ages respect and like each other. I really like my friends’ teenage kids. They’re decent and respectful, and I’m glad my daughters have good role models. I guess we’ll just have to keep surrounding ourselves with great teens and maybe we’ll get lucky when our girls reach that stage.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pieces of the puzzle

When something crappy happens in your life that you don't understand and don't appreciate, chances are someone will say to you "everything happens for a reason". When they say it, you're usually in the middle of wallowing in self-pity and you don't necessarily want to hear it. But usually, there seems to be a grain of truth to it, and when time finally separates you from the crappy thing, and you can look back with some measure of objectivity, you discover that the crappy thing was somehow redeemed and there was reason or at least some value to it.

Last month I told you that Marcel didn't get into university for this coming year. Then, after we appealed to the University (and prayed about it), they changed their mind and let him in. So clearly it looked like it was meant to be. But then last week he went for his orientation session and discovered that his short daytime schedule and options for evening classes were over and he would now have to commit himself to full days EVERY day. This caused us some stress, because suddenly his time as a stay-at-home Dad with Maddie would be over and we'd have to find (and pay for) full time child care. With just over a month until he returns to school, we really didn't know how we'd manage to work it all out.

In the meantime, my old friend Kari responded to my attempts to track her down. She phoned last week, and I invited her and her kids for an afternoon of swimming, topped off with a barbecue in the back yard. She showed up today with her two little girls, and within moments, Maddie had fallen in love with her new friend (it doesn't take her long to fall in love, but this one was a record).

Turns out Kari is on maternity leave this year, having just given birth to her second child. And guess what - she's offered to care for Maddie in the afternoons for the upcoming year. She thinks it would be great for her daughter to have a friend around. Wow! Feels a little serendipitous. Now we just have to try to get Maddie into the preschool close to Kari's house, and the whole plan might fall into place.

The timing for the reunion with Kari seems almost eery. And in case you're wondering, yes, the years did fall away, and it was just like old times. It wasn't hard to remember why we were such good friends.

I leave you with a picture of true love. Hope they still feel this way when they spend every day together!

Good food, good wine, good conversation - I declare it a SUCCESS!

Last month, when we had our big birthday/graduation celebration, I introduced my friend Suzanne to my friends Michele, Yvonne, and Linda. Shortly after the introduction, I wandered away to greet some other new arrivals at the party. Well, by the time I returned to the conversation, the four women had discovered that they were kindred spirits (they recognized the signs when Suzanne produced a crystal wine glass so she could drink wine in style at an outdoor party) and a dinner party was well on it's way to being arranged. Since I was the common link, I sent out an e-mail, arranged the date, and voila, it was done. About the easiest dinner party I've ever "organized", considering I didn't host it and all I brought was the bread!

Along the way, we picked up a couple of other like-minded women (Michele's friend Glenda was visiting from Ontario, and Michele's other friend Asha was another natural fit). My sister ccap would have been included too, but she's traveling right now. Maybe next time.

Well, what can I tell you? It was a hoot! Suzanne has an amazing, character home that she's put all kinds of beautiful touches into (she's got style, that girl). It was the perfect setting for the night. We ate amazing food - barbecued chicken skewers, shrimp skewers, mediterranean rice, stuffed squash, mediterranean salad, lemon potatoes, bread, baklava - ummmmm... And the wine was flowing. Glenda brought some from the Niagara Peninsula, and Michele started raiding Suzanne's wine cabinet when that ran out (apparently Michele has expensive tastes, because she picked the best).

What a night! Seven amazing women, with lots of interesting life experiences (and a little gossip) to share, great senses of humour, lots of wisdom and brilliance - it was a memorable night. Everyone needs friends like these!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Scattered pieces

Tear a page into a thousand pieces. Scatter those pieces on the floor. Some will land with the printing side up, and some will be upside down. You’ll see lots of words and pieces of words, but none of them will be connected, and so you will not make sense of any of it.

That’s how my mind feels today. Scattered.

That’s why today’s post is random.

- I remember when Marcel and I were dating (somewhere between 1990 and 1993). Operation Desert Storm happened, and he became a CNN addict. It was hard to tear him away. That was when I knew I’d fallen in love with a news junkie. Mostly, despite the fact that I sometimes grew weary of pictures of bombing and destruction, it made me happy, because I knew life would be interesting and he would teach me things. I also knew he’d have lots of interesting conversations with my father.

- The reason I bring up Marcel’s CNN obsession is that I’m suddenly finding myself glued to the internet trying to learn more about what’s going on in Lebanon. The political unrest in the Middle East has always baffled me, but this time I find myself wanting to understand what’s going on. Partly because I know a man trapped in the country of his birth and I know a woman waiting for him to return home.

- If/when I become a freelance writer/consultant, I PROMISE I will try to get things in by the deadline, I will get back to you when you call, I will not take off on an extended trip in the middle of an important project without letting you know that it will delay completion of said project, I will listen to you and try to capture the essence of what YOU want rather than what I want, and I will be friendly. Today, I’m frustrated with consultants and my work is stalled and way behind schedule because I am at their mercy.

- Is it just me, or do you find those websites that have sound that automatically starts when you open the site somewhat annoying? Mostly it’s musicians’ sites, and I guess I can understand why they do that, but I find it to be an assault to the senses. When I’m on the internet, it’s usually because I want to SEE things, not HEAR them. I want to be able to choose when I engage the other senses.

- My sister is gone for 2 weeks. I miss her. It feels like part of me is missing when she goes away.

- I’m almost finished a couple of annual tasks that I find to be pure drudgery. The annual report and annual performance reviews of my staff. The end is in site and I couldn’t be happier.

- It’s TV free month at our house. We do this every year – usually in the summer. No TV – not even for Mom and Dad (hence the internet news for the Lebanon conflict rather than CNN). Whenever we do, I find it quite peaceful and often wish we could extend it to TV free year. What’s nice is that the kids often forget after the month is over, and don’t miss it much, so it takes awhile before the TV gets turned on again.

- I am delighted with how much the kids are enjoying the cheap pool we bought. It’s only 2 feet deep and 10 feet across, but judging by the amount of excitement it has caused around our house, you’d think we'd put in an Olympic-sized pool. It makes me happy when my children still take pleasure in small things. Maybe they're not overly spoiled after all.

- Last night I put together a 3-D puzzle with Nikki and Julie and played a My Little Pony game with Maddie. It was delicious and boring, all at the same time.

- The Franklin Graham Festival (an off-shoot of the Billy Graham Crusade) is coming to our city this fall. The week before the event, they’re getting as many Christians together as possible, cramming them onto a bunch of charter buses, and circling the perimeter of the city, praying all the way. Is it just me, or does that seem cheesy and irrelevant to you too? Not to mention that they’re wasting money and fossil fuels doing it. Maybe they could walk around downtown handing out blankets and sandwiches to homeless people while they pray.

Apparently, there are a lot more scattered pieces in my brain than I thought. I’ll leave the rest lying on the floor for now.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On my mind today

One of my colleagues is married to a Lebanese Canadian. His dad died a few weeks ago and he went back to Lebanon to bury him and be with his mom. Three hours after he landed in Beirut, the airport was bombed. Now, like all the other foreigners there, he has no way of getting out.

His mother's house overlooks the Beirut airport. My colleague talks to him nearly every day, and when they're on the phone, she can hear the bombing in the background. Always. He has helped his sister escape to her home in Jordan, and has helped other family members get out of the country. He does not want to leave, though, without his mother. The streets all around them are being bombed. They don't know how much longer they'll have a source of food and water.

If you're the praying kind, feel free to add them to your prayers. All of our other worries seem so petty when you don't know whether you'll see your family again. It almost seems like too much to bear when you're in the middle of grieving your father/husband's death.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A letter to my father

Dear Dad,

I wish I could talk to you, Dad. I wish I could hop in the car, drive to the farm, pull up a chair at your kitchen table, and talk to you, while you fried yourself an egg, or ate one of mom’s buns with jam. There are so many things I’d bring to the table, Dad – so many things I’d like to hear your opinion about. We’d talk about the kids, the farm, and the state of the world. I’d show you some of the stuff I’d gotten published lately, and you’d smile your sideways smile as you bent your head.

Here’s what’s been on my mind lately, Dad – it seems so unfair that, shortly after you died, I got a job that has so much to do with who you are and how you raised us. It’s all about farming and stewardship and generosity and helping those less fortunate than us. It’s also about diverse faith groups finding a way to get past their theological differences and work together to do what God calls us to do – end hunger.

You would have smiled at me, Dad, if I’d told you what I did last Friday. I went on a field trip – a LITERAL field trip. I visited some farm groups and stood out there in their fields, admiring their crops of wheat and oats and soybeans. I listened to them talk about this year’s growing season – they’ve had too much heat and not enough rain. I let them teach me how, if you rub the husk off a strand of wild oats and then spit in your hand, the wild oat seed will begin to twist in your hand. Imagine that – the child you thought would be least likely to end up standing in a field talking to a farmer, working in a job where farming is part of my daily conversations. I even read farm papers these days, to stay on top of the issues and find out how the crops are doing. Strange, isn’t it?

The farm groups we visited were community growing projects that get together to grow a crop which they donate to our organization so that we can ship food overseas to provide food to people who are hungry. Last year, Dad, I got to go to Kenya and Tanzania to see where some of that food gets shipped. You would have loved it, Dad. It’s an amazing place to visit!

It’s all great stuff, Dad, but there’s something that’s been troubling me a bit lately, and I wish I could bend your ear for awhile and hear what you have to say on the subject. You see, the fields we visited on Friday, well, there was something just too perfect about the crops on those fields. We stood there listening to the farmers tell us about the process they go through to prepare the land, fertilize it, spray it, plant it with perfect seed (some of which has been genetically modified) and then spray it again so that it all dies at a uniform rate and is all ready to harvest at the same time. Maybe it’s all okay, but there was just something so clinical to it – so methodical. It didn’t seem rhythmical, the way nature is meant to be. It didn’t seem entirely natural.

Do you think we’re doing the right thing, Dad, with all these chemicals and genetically modified organisms? Do you think we’re treating God’s green earth the way we’re supposed to be treating it? I think of how you struggled to grow a decent crop, how you spread manure on the fields, how you let the land rest now and then, how you taught us to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted us with, and I wonder what you’d think of all this big-business farming now.

I know there are no easy answers in all of this. People need food, and, the truth is, North Americans have gotten used to perfect, pretty food, so they don’t necessarily want the stuff that’s grown the way nature grows it, with imperfections and all. Beyond that, though, there’s also the fact that we need to share our food, and according to some of the experts, there’s no way to end hunger in the world without the use of chemicals and GMOs.

I guess it just doesn’t sit right with me all the time. God created a bountiful world. God doesn’t want people to be hungry. God wants his people to figure out how to bring balance to the world where all have enough to eat. So wouldn’t God have designed the world to be able to produce enough food without all the tinkering we’ve been doing? On the other hand, maybe God made us with scientific capacity to figure it out with science and not just nature. I just don’t know.

I know you don’t know the answers to these questions, Dad, but it would have made for an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it? If only I could sit at your table and talk with you again.


p.s. Thanks for leaving behind those pictures, Dad. We all really appreciated them. I've got a couple of them hanging on my wall. I guess it's those pictures and what they represent that makes me think that a man with so much respect for God's creation (including dandelions) would have a few questions about how much we seem to be acting like owners instead of stewards of the earth.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Must be some good karma

Two great things happened tonight. First of all, we were all sitting around reading when my Mom and her husband pulled into our driveway. "Mom! Grandma and Grandpa P. are here!" Nikki shouted. Doesn't sound too extraordinary? Well it does if you consider that she has just spent the last two months in Holland, plus a couple of weeks in Alberta. That's a LONG time to be away! FAR away! I didn't realize just how much I missed her until I saw their van in the driveway.

Ten minutes later, while we were sitting on the deck and the girls were showing off their new pool, the phone rang. It was Kari - she-who-gave-me the-black-skirt - she'd found out I was trying to track her down, and after she'd recuperated from the birth of her second child, she finally gave me a call! Yay! We're getting together on Saturday and our kids are going to hang out together and I sure hope that all the years fall away and we are the same old comfortable, laughing at all the silly jokes, letting our hair down, kinda friends.

So now I have at least three things to look forward to this weekend - some time with my Mom, a dinner party with 6 incredible, interesting, talented, beautiful women whom I'm lucky enough to call friends (well, one of them I haven't met yet, but at the end of the night, I'm sure I'll call her friend too), and a get-together with one of the truest, most down-to-earth, funny friends I've ever had in my life. Throw in a bit of splashin' in the pool with my girls, a Friday off work, and it has the makings of a perfect weekend. I'm a lucky, lucky girl. Now if only the week would go quickly!

Oh, and there's other good news - I got a bit of an extended writing gig for another magazine. Two short pieces already accepted with assignments for 4 more. Yippee! Bring on the karma!

Sunday, July 16, 2006


"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots; the other, wings." Hodding Carter

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." Rachel Carson

Mama Says Om Theme: Whimsy (Actually, I'm a day late for this theme, but since I'd planned to do this all week, I thought I'd still stick it up here.)

How to make 2 girls very happy

1. Buy a cheap pool.
2. Fill it with water.
3. Let them play in it while it fills.

How to make 2 parents happy:

1. Let them watch their kids splash in the pool while the sun sets.

(Their sister was at a friend's house swimming in a real pool, so she won't have minded missing the action.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why am I still fumbling for words?

A couple of times, when I’ve mentioned a recent publishing success, or I’ve written something that touched people, someone has made a comment that my blog is not aptly named and that I am not “fumbling for words”.

Let me explain why I chose to name the blog as I did, even though I make my living as a professional communicator, have always loved to string words together, do a fair bit of public speaking, and am lucky enough to have my writing published now and then.

You see, even though words are some of my closest companions, I often feel that they continue to be seductively illusive. Almost every time I write something, or speak in public, I feel like the right words are at the tip of my tongue/pen - just out of grasp. When I reach for them, they taunt me. “Nya, nya,” they say, “you THINK you’ve got the right turn of phrase, but we’ve got a better one and you can’t have it!” In the absence of the perfect words, therefore, I fumble for the adequate words.

In our office, a bunch of people do crossword puzzles together. When I started working here, they thought for SURE I’d make a valuable contribution to the crosswords because I’m a writer and therefore MUST be good at finding words. It didn’t take long, though, for them to discover that I SUCK at crosswords. When it comes to crosswords, I am definitely fumbling for words.

Sometimes, I have completely dumb moments and use entirely the wrong word. It’s usually when I’m trying to “act” smart, and use a word I think I understand the meaning of but don’t really. Like the other day, when I defined something as “pedagogical” when what I really meant was “pedantic”. The person I was speaking to, who often uses the word pedagogical in the right context, gave me a funny look and I only realized later, when it dawned on me what I’d said, why. Yes, in those contexts, I fumble for words.

My family has a good chuckle now and then, when I act like the ditzy sister and say completely inane things. (I seem to recall some teasing over my use of the word “vignette”.) In those moments, I am indeed fumbling for words.

When I read something that’s stunningly brilliant, with just the right combination of words to convey emotion, beauty, or truth, I feel completely inadequate in my humble attempts. In those moments, when I compare myself to others, I feel that I am doing little more than fumbling for words.

So you see, even though I sometimes get it right, it’s usually because I’ve set aside the taunting of the “perfect words”, have accepted the words that are “good enough”, have chosen to ignore the niggling voice of self-doubt that threatens to silence me, and have decided that my fumbled words have enough meaning and beauty to be a worthy offering to the world. I continue to believe that words, well used, can make the world a better place. And even those of us who are still fumbling have something of value to contribute.

No, I won’t be changing the name of my blog any time soon.

I'm still fumbling.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beyond ordinary magazine

Here it is, the next in the line of "great magazines featuring articles by yours truly". Beyond Ordinary Living appeared in the mail today. The article in this one is about losing Matthew and about finding healing at the common grave he shares with hundreds of other stillborn children.

It's a nice treat to appear in the same magazine that features Steve Bell, an amazing musician, and lately, a personal friend of mine.

It's the third interesting and unique independent Canadian magazine I've been published in in the last two months. (Geez and Cahoots are the last two.) If you live in Canada, you can find Beyond Ordinary Living at Chapters, and the other two mags at McNally Robinson. I'm thrilled to have found a place in all three of these magazines that all have great potential to spice up the scenery on an otherwise rather dull magazine rack.

I met the editor of BOL at a recent conference (where, incidently, she received an award for best new magazine) and she was a delightful lunch companion. Ethel, if you read this, the magazine is beautiful and I'm honoured to be a part of it!

Now, for the rest of you, go out there and buy the magazine so that people like Ethel can keep a good thing going!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Still more ways to have fun

(because Blogger wouldn't let me add any more pics to my last post)
eat a whale's tale
drink lots of water
buy a funky toe ring
go for a walk with three of your favourite people

How to have fun at the Winnipeg Folk Festival

Of course there are the obvious ways to have fun, like listening to good music and eating good food, but here are a few less-than obvious ways you can have fun...
snuggle with someone you love

share your lemonade with a baby
hang out with your sister
build a city out of tarps
eat licorice
have a nap with a friendly dragonfly paint your face like a butterfly
take flying lessons
do a little smoochin'
follow the pied piper of bubbles

"This is the Place Where I Find Peace"

Driving out of the parking lot at Birds Hill Park last night, after listening to Bruce Cockburn end off another perfect day, I listened to this song on my new Fruit cd, and I thought, yes, this is the place where I find peace. (You can hear the song on their site - it's worth it.)

Twenty years of attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and it is indeed a place of peace for me. It is also a place where I find inspiration, contentment, fullness, refreshment, and so many, many other good things. It’s like filling the soul with a tall glass of cool spring water after a marathon run on a hot day. It’s like that first stroke of brilliance after a long writer’s block. It’s like candy after Lent.

Some people marvel at my long-time dedication to this festival, and it’s hard to describe what it does deep in my soul to be at this place, but it is a place and time like no other. It is my Mecca, my pilgrimage, my centre of the labyrinth. Sound too spiritual and perhaps a little sacrilegious? Well, in the words of one of my co-workers who just discovered Folk Fest for the first time this year “this is what heaven is supposed to be like – people are so friendly, there’s an air of peace and contentment and trust. I have never experienced anything like it before.” I believe that there is a little piece of God at the Folk Festival.

As I bask in the glow of another glorious weekend, let me attempt to capture the things I love about the Folk Festival.

1. The spirit of the place. You know how people on vacation are almost always more friendly than when they’re on their way to work? Well, picture a crowd of thousands - all of them on a mini-vacation – feelin’ the groove, soaking in the sun (or the rain – even when it’s pouring, people have a good time), and listening to good tunes. I normally hate crowds, but these crowds are just so different. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere there – it’s just a little bit of magic.

2. Community. Complete strangers support each other at this place. I have a high level of trust that if one of my children would go missing, for example, there would be someone there to protect her. One year (before kids), when I got separated from my brother and sister (who I’d come with) and couldn’t find them, I ended up spending the whole evening hanging out with a group of friendly guys from Toronto. They were gracious and funny, and at the end of the night, they helped me find my ride.

3. Colour. It is such a colourful, delightful place to spend a few hours (or days) people-watching. Even people who wear drab business suits in their “real” lives, show up in tie-dyed sarongs and other colourful costumes. There’s something about this place that brings out the inner-hippie in all of us, and it makes for a fun spectrum of colour.

4. Music. Of COURSE there’s the music. The Winnipeg Folk Fest has a solid reputation in the world of folk (and other) music, so they draw exceptional talent from all over the world. Each year, I discover a few new favourites, and revive a few old ones. This year, some of my new faves are Fruit, Jeremy Fisher, Oh Susanna, Ruthie Foster, Chad VanGaalen, Crooked Still, and Dan Frechette. Some old favourites – The Wailin’ Jennys (though I was a little disappointed I didn’t hear any new stuff), Richard Thompson, James Keelaghan, and of course, the always amazing Bruce Cockburn. In fact, I think Bruce Cockburn is one of the reasons I fell in love with folk music. He performed at one of my first Folk Fests nearly twenty years ago, and I discovered early on that he has a way of stringing words together that makes my poetic heart go pitter-pat.

5. Trust. It may sound corny, but there’s an element of safety and trust at the Folk Fest. We usually set up our tarp in the morning, abandon most of our belongings for the day as we wander around to the different workshops, and in twenty years, we have NEVER had anything go missing from the tarp. It’s quite remarkable.

6. Magical moments. Each year, I have at least one (and usually several) magical moment that feels like absolute perfection. The kind of moment when your heart feels so full of goodness and beauty you practically burst. This year there were a few. There was the moment I wandered the edge of the labyrinth just as the sun was setting behind a cloud and the drumbeat of African music drifted across from the Firefly Palace. There was the moment I sat at the edge of the family area eating a picnic with my daughters and watching Maddie dart back and forth between her sandwich and the hoola hoops and other delightful things to play with. There was the moment I sat alone and wrapped myself in the richness of the voices and guitar pickin’ of Ruthie, Bruce, and Richard. There was the moment I sat and watched my sister nurse baby Abigail and I was filled with memories of years past when I nursed my own babies there.

7. Food and other fun things to buy. The Folk Fest draws out some of the best international food there is to be had in Winnipeg. There’s Thai food, Indian food, groovy vegan food, Greek food, whale’s tales, homemade lemonade, kettle corn – ummm… a foodie’s delight. I have to pick carefully, because I could spend a fortune in food alone. There’s also an amazing Handmade Village where you can buy pottery, djembe drums, funky jewellery, tie-dyed sarongs, hemp clothing, purses made from old seatbelts – you name it. My only purchase in this economically tight year was a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. But of course, it’s no ORDINARY hat – it’s colourful, funky, and handmade. (If you visit Nikki’s blog, you’ll find out what she and her sister bought.)

8. Inspiration. I think most people (at least people who have any drops of artistic blood in their veins) feel inspired to create when they see or hear great art. When I sit at the Folk Festival, I want to write poetry. I want to craft ballads. I want to fingerpaint. I want to throw splashes of colour at the walls. Even if it’s lain dormant for awhile, I feel creativity pulsing up through my veins.

9. Nature. The Folk Fest is in a beautiful setting, with lots of mature trees, flowing prairie grass, gentle rolling hills, and wildflowers sprinkled around the edges. You can’t help but feel close to the Creator when you sit in a place like that, listening to and seeing the wonders of his creation and of all that people have been created to create.

10. Family. My children have all grown up going to the Folk Fest. They absolutely love it – almost as much as I do. They’ve learned to appreciate good music through their exposure there and they’ve also experienced what gracious community can be like. Children are valued there. They not only have amazing children’s entertainment, but they have so much for kids to do – face painting, crafts, hoola hoops and big balls, stilts, juggling, a reading tent, etc., etc.

I could probably write a longer list, but I think that’s enough for now. (Plus I don’t want to bore you or make you insanely jealous.) Have I convinced you yet? Next year, we could plan a bloggers’ meet-up at the Folk Fest! I’ll reserve a tarp for you.

Sorry, Michele, for going on and on about something you had to miss this year. But think of it as a prelude to next year.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


We have arrived home from the Greatest Festival on Earth and all I have the energy left to say is to repeat what Maddie said in the car ride on the way home.... "Aaahhh... I'm enjoying my life."

More tomorrow. Only 361 days until the next one!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Let me leave you with this little chuckle...

Before I go, I can't resist a Maddie-story (I think we're all enjoying this time alone with her, even though her sisters are missed). While I was cleaning up the supper dishes, she was busy making up stories for me. First of all, she said that she had to go to jail. When I asked her why, she said she had killed George Bush (huh?). When I looked shocked and asked her why, she said "because he went to war with me and he was going to kill me". Hmmm... do you think perhaps she hears a little too much politics around here?

In the second story, she made up something about how she'd lost her shoes at the playground, and then she came and stood in front of me and said "can you tape these to my feet? I don't have any shoes anymore." And for this, a visual says it better than I could...

My poor shoeless jailbird!

It's time!

Every year at this time, my sister and I pack our backpacks with tarps and hats and sunscreen and tie-dyed headbands, fill coolers with snacks and cold water, grab our Mad Nomad chairs, kiss our husbands good-bye, and make our annual three day pilgrimage to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It is one of the greatest places on earth - good music, the great outdoors, good food, interesting conversations, relaxation, sun (and sometimes rain), and lots of people-watching. It's been about 18 years now, and there are few things in life that would cause either of us to miss this weekend. My sister even planned her honeymoon around it!

If you are lucky enough to be there too, you can find us (at least in the evenings) by our new tarp-marker. (The words printed on it are the poems ccap and I had published in the FF program a few years ago.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A glorious day

After we dropped her big sisters off at summer camp, Maddie got her parents' undivided attention for a few hours at the beach. Sun, sand, ducks, water goggles, new families to adopt on the beach, slushies in the middle of the week (she was SO thrilled we broke the "weekend only" rule), plastic shovels and pails, a waterfall - what's not to like?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

He's in! He's in!

Remember our disappointment when we found out Marcel had not been accepted into the education program? Well, we got good news today. They found a spot for him!

It seems a little coaxing (I wrote a letter to the university expressing our disappointment and Marcel wrote a letter to the admissions committee asking for an opportunity to appeal the decision in person) went a long way, because a spot seems to have opened up. A little perseverance goes a long way now and then!

In September, it will be back to the books again for him. And in two years, some lucky high school students will learn history from a man who's passionate about it and who cares about their future.

(Thanks Gina for the inspiration! Your story encouraged us to persevere. :-)

Telling painful stories

(Warning: not a post for the young or faint of heart.)

Yesterday, as I drove home from getting my hair cut, I listened to an interview with three of the victims of this horrific crime. I pulled into a parking lot and sat and cried as they re-told stories that were uncomfortably close to my own story. As painful as it was, I couldn't turn it off because I knew I had to honour our shared history and their bravery to tell their stories.

Seventeen years later, and they still live with the scars - physical and emotional - of what that man did to them. One of them slept for years under her dining room table because she thought that if someone broke in again, he would look in the bed and wouldn't think to look in the kitchen. Anything to preserve her safety. I didn't sleep under a table, but I remember long nights of staring at dark windows, wondering if the shadows I saw there were human.

Two of them have come forward, releasing their names to the press, defying the public to blame the victim, standing up for women like them. Like me. In the coming forward though, they had to first tell the story to their young children, born since the crime.

I wonder, nineteen years after I faced what they faced, if the perpetrator were caught, would I come forward and let my name and my story be public? Would I face the barrage of media, wanting to know every horrid detail? I think I would, for the sake of the other women still dealing with the scars.

But my tears refused to stop as I imagined the day I have to tell my daughters. Some day, they will know that the world can be a horrible place and that people can do evil things. Some day, they will know that deviant sexual desires can cause people to do bad things to people like their mommy.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Covering all my bases

Not much of a post today - just stopping by in the middle of a busy and fun long weekend to say happy belated Canada Day (to my Canadian friends) and happy 4th of July in advance (to my American friends). I hope you're having as much fun as we're having this weekend - a picnic in the park, a visit to the Canada Day celebrations at The Forks, refreshments on our friends' deck, a stroll through Assiniboine Park topped off with an ice cream treat, a barbecue at Marcel's parents' place, a nice family bike ride to and from church, Canada Day fireworks downtown - and it's not over yet. Tomorrow, we hit the beach.
See you later, when I have more time for bloggin'. (If I have time, I'll tell you the story of when I joined the rebel bike gang, rode downtown in a protest ride, and ended up with my picture in the paper. Intrigued?)

In the meantime, I leave you with this photo I snapped from the car window on the way home from Marcel's parents' house tonight. I wish it meant we were getting rain (it's been pretty dry), but we're still waiting.