Monday, December 31, 2012

Choo choo and Achoo.

Unusual things have been happening in the last 24 hours.  My husband and I went out for dinner last night to the Keg.  We saw Les Miserables.  In the theatre.  I rolled out of bed at ten in the morning.  I drank a cup of tea the first time that I boiled water today instead of the sixth.  I ate a cookie before lunch without sneaking it.  That's right, we are sans enfants for a few days!  Both sets of grandparents eagerly agreed to watch our boys for two nights each, and we are staying at my parents' beach house.  The only glitch is that I came down with a cold or flu yesterday, so I'm feeling pretty lousy.  But, it sure if nice to be able to rest and relax while I'm under the weather, because moms don't usually get sick days!  I do miss those little guys though.

We had a nice Christmas, even with all our colds and flus and toothaches.  The boys had fun and were cute as baby elephants (probably the cutest baby animal, by the way) opening gifts and playing with cousins.  The big hit of O's gifts was a "Woody" doll from Toy Story that I picked up at Value Village.  I didn't realize until I was stuffing it into his stocking that the hat was missing, and sure enough that was the first thing he said when he opened it.  I managed to think on the spot and said that Santa thought it would be fun for us to craft a hat for Woody together.  So we spent some good crafting time together later and made a little felt cowboy hat.  

The big gift that we bought for the two of them to share was the Imaginarium Spiral wooden train track set: 

I spent a rather long time setting it up, and before long T had broken it all apart, stepped on it, and pushed it over several times with a big grin on his face.  I sent him to time out because I wanted to play trains I want to teach him to not wreck toys, but he is quite a determined little fellow.  In recent months, O has pretty much given up on setting up train tracks when playing with his trains because T always destroys the layouts.  One solution would be to have tracks permanently set up so that they can't be taken apart.  I've always wanted to have a train table for the kids, but we just didn't have enough space in our last house, and it seemed like an extravagant purchase.  When my husband suggested that we get rid of an old TV cabinet in the basement and make a train table for the kids, I was on board.

Here is the piece of inspiration that he found on Suburban Homestead.  Basically, she took a white Ikea Lack coffee table, and glued the train tracks and accessories right on the table top.  I like the clean, uncluttered look of the train table, and the fact that the Ikea table only costs $39.99.  I perused craigslist like a crazy stalker for the next few days, trying to track down a free or cheap Lack coffee table.  Finally, I found one, but when hubby went to buy it, it was definitely not the size or the condition that the person had advertised.  And he was selling it out of the back of his van.  We figured he was one of those people who picks up free things on craigslist and then sells them.  Luckily, I remembered that we had an Ikea gift card kicking around for almost the same price as the coffee table, so we took a trip there and bought a brand new one (gasp).  We waffled between the white and black/brown, and decided to go with black/brown.  The white display model was pretty marked-up, and we figured this table was going to take much toy-abuse.  We had also decided to build a plywood topper to glue the tracks to, so that we will have a useable coffee table when the kids are done with trains.  All the cool kids have white furniture though.  

My next piece of inspiration was this amazing train table made with a plywood topper sitting on two Ikea Trofast units.  The hole in the middle is genius, and I love the details.  This train table artist had the fabulous idea of using blue glitter for the water, which I am definitely going to copy.  In a house full of boys, you have to grab every legitimate opportunity to use glitter.  Finally, this artist painted a very impressive scene onto their train table.  I will probably not attempt this level of artistry, but cool nonetheless.  I love Made By Joel's paper city illustrations, so I was thinking of incorporating some some of his ideas into our train table setup too.  Stay tuned for current project obsession updates!

Happy New Year to you all!  I'm coughing and sneezing up a storm here, so I likely will not stay up to ring in the New Year.  Actually, I haven't done that in years, but at least I've got a good excuse.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Because nothing says "Christmas" like an emergency root canal, and stomach flu.

I have an awesome husband.  He looked after the boys all day yesterday while I hole up in the bedroom, recovering from another emergency root canal treatment, and a bout of stomach flu or food poisoning.  He did this after being awake most of the night listening to me perform in the Opera a la toilette.  Being so nauseous was a good reminder for me to think long and hard before contemplating another pregnancy in the future.  But hubs and I make such sweet children.  Hmmm.

Actually, nothing says "Christmas" like "Merry Christmas."  But am I the only one who feels a little awkward about the tendency of some folks to become rather...militaristic about saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings"?  A few years ago, at a Christmas gathering, I squirmed and bit my tongue while a youtube video was presented on a big screen featuring a band that usually plays children's music.  Here is the chorus of the song:

Why It's called Christmas, what more can I say? 
It's about the birth of Christ 
and you can't take that away. 
You can call it something else, 
but that's not what it will be. 
It's called Christmas with a capital "C." 

And a few more choice lines:

 I say you gotta say merry Christmas cuz it is! if you don't believe in it fine, but i got a flash for you, Christianity happens to be the religious heritage of my country whether you like it or not.

so if you're not Christian or you don't like it, and you don't want Christmas to be celebrated, well then God Bless You, but if you're think you're gonna stop me from sayin it because it offends you, i gotta flash for you, Put a helmet on, cuz it's my country too

Gulp.  Is this our call, as Christians, to defend the religious heritage of our country, be it America or Canada?  To insist that our neighbours of different faiths say "Merry Christmas"?

Inevitably, during this time of year, somebody posts on Facebook (forgive me if that was you) or emails the blurb erroneously attributed to Ben Stein called "Confessions for the Holidays".  You can read Stein's actual commentary and the altered version of it here, on Snopes.  His original commentary is actually a brief, interesting read about the secularization of Christmas from the perspective of a Jewish man, and a contemplation of  the acceptance of celebrity-worship in our society.  The adulterated version, however, adds several points not actually written by Stein, all of which are embarrassingly offensive.  To summarize the blurb without giving another platform to the author, whoever he or she may be, the gist is that we "reap what we sow" in regards to terrorist attacks, school shootings, murders, suicides, children who don't know right from wrong, all because we have forced God out of our institutions: our schools, and our government.  And because we aren't spanking our children enough.  The blurb ends with the usual guilt-mongering common to these type of posts (only people who really care will share, or, share this or you will grow

In the days following the Connecticut shooting, I noticed a few people on my facebook feed (forgive me again if that was you) posting their thoughts, connecting the shooting with the fact that school-sponsored prayer is no longer allowed, and that the ten commandments are no longer taught in school.  Several links started popping up to politicians and pundits who echoed these sentiments, that somehow we have shimmied God out of our institutions.  Some comments liken God to a gentleman, excusing himself where he's not wanted.  And, thusly, we "reap what we sow".  A separation of state and church somehow leads to school shootings.

I beg to differ.

Enter the Christmas story: Instead of abandoning us, God "put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood" as the Message so aptly puts it.  God has not abandoned us; he became Emmanuel, God with us.  I think it's important to note that Jesus came, not in a flash of power to take over the political and educational institutions of his day, but as a baby.  He was a Jew during Roman occupation, narrowly missed being killed as an infant by that regime, and was even rejected by his own people.  Jesus came to transform our hearts, not to legislate faith in him, whether by school-led prayer, or requiring the gas jockey to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Season's Greetings".  God is not some demure gentleman, whom we can usher out of a room.  God has never needed the government's endorsement or permission to be present.

So, let's keep saying "Merry Christmas"!  Let us seize opportunities to share why we are celebrating Christmas.  Let us be different in how we celebrate Christmas, let us wrestle with our frenzied holiday consumption in the face of world-wide poverty.   Let us keep saying "Merry Christmas", but, let us remember the humble birth of Christ, and say it with a mark of humility instead of a spirit of defensiveness and entitlement.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

I'll leave you with a link to a beautiful song on this Christmas Eve, called "Winter Snow" by Audrey Assad.  Lyrics are below, but do have a listen.  She sings this song with Chris Tomlin on his Christmas album, and it's truly lovely.

Could've come like a mighty storm
With all the strength of a hurricane
You could've come like a forest fire
With the power of heaven in Your flame

But You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

You could've swept in like a tidal wave
Or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
To wipe away the things we've scarred

But You came like a winter snow
(Yes, You did)
You were quiet
You were soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

Oh, no, Your voice wasn't in a bush burning
No, Your voice wasn't in a rushing wind
It was still
It was small
It was hidden

You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

(Oh, yeah)
To the earth below
You came falling
From the sky in the night
To the earth below

An Elf to Help...With the Laundry

Better late than never, I finished making my own version of the "Elf on a Shelf" elf.  If you haven't heard of it yet, the real elf is sold along with a book that tells his or her (if you buy the girl elf version) story.  The elf magically flies back to the North Pole every night to tell Santa whether the kids in his house have been naughty or nice.  I initially thought it was kind of creepy - having an elf supposedly watching your kids every day, but then I discovered the fun part.  Every morning, when the kids wake up, they have to search through the house to find the elf, who has been up to some kind of mischief.  He might do snow angels in a pile of flour on the kitchen counter, or toilet paper the christmas tree, or draw moustaches on the faces in the pictures on the wall (with a dry-erase pen).  I thought it would be fun, so I showed O some pictures of the mischievous elves online because I wanted to see his reaction.  I thought he might be distressed by an elf doing naughty things to his house, and I was right.  O was quite upset by the toilet papered Christmas tree and made it quite clear that he did NOT want a naughty elf in the house.  He did, however, suggest that I make a good elf to help me with my chores.  Specifically, he mentioned, an elf to help me with the laundry at night after he is asleep.  Wouldn't that be nice!  And so, here he is:

And here is a photo of my chandelier, all decked out for Christmas.  Just because.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Shortest Day of the Year

I love Christmas.  I love experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my children, remembering the wonder and the seeming magic of this time of year when you are small.  My thoughts lately are never far from the heartache of those families in Newtown though, and how Christmas will never seem the same to them again.

Even if you are choosing to avoid news coverage of the Connecticut school shooting (is that even possible, those of you who are trying?), please read this article by Rev. Emily C. Heath "Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT To Say And Five Things To Say In A Trauma Involving Children".  These guidelines transcend traumas involving children; they are  applicable to so many other situations.

When my husband had cancer, or when we experienced two miscarriages, people who loved us and had nothing but the best of intentions sometimes unwittingly said very unhelpful, and, at worst, hurtful things.  Being the recipient of such words necessitates grace and humility, because nobody really knows what to say in those situations.  Failed attempts to bring comfort in tragic circumstances are still attempts; the perception that you are being avoided in those situations only adds loneliness to grief.  To mourn with those who mourn can be an intimidating, uncomfortable experience, and the fear of saying "the wrong thing" only adds to the awkwardness.  If you can't find any words, your physical presence, and certainly a listening ear can bring comfort.

In my experience, those who are grieving need space, even permission, to grieve, and not to be forced to searching for a silver lining in the situation.  Platitudes might feel like the right thing to offer up to someone in grief, but they are of little comfort, and usually not even true.  I've experienced difficult things in my own life and yet I find myself saying some of these things to others.  I can't help but wonder if it is a protective instinct to say something that is supposed to make the grieving person feel better, because it distances me from their pain.  How much easier it is to offer up a silver lining than to acknowledge and enter into the pain of grief with that person, to say "I don't understand why this happened.  I'm so sorry."

And, truly, who can understand such things?  Try as we might to determine all the reasons for this tragedy in Connecticut, reasons which have validity, and need to be explored and acted upon: access to guns, access to mental health resources, the cult of celebrity in (North) America, we are still left without understanding.  American President Obama was right in saying of Newtown "Evil has visited this community."  Like many before me have concluded, evil escapes all explanations, and defies our attempts at understanding it.  It is a fruitless, hopeless endeavour to chase after a satisfactory answer to the gnawing question "Why?".

Today, on the shortest day of the year, when we celebrate that there will be more light in each day from now until the summer solstice, I can only hope and pray for the families in Newtown, and others who are experiencing grief, that they will somehow experience healing.  That as each day brings a few more minutes of light, they might experience even a glimpse more of comfort, of hope for a future, of strength, from the true Light of the world.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On such a day.

I have few words of my own on such a day.  My feelings of self-pity this morning for yet another dental abscess were put into perspective when I opened facebook and read the sudden rash of reactions to another school shooting in the United States.  While Canada certainly isn't immune to school shootings, the incidence of these shootings in America is astounding.  Astounding.  And the number of shooting deaths per capita in the USA in general is mind-boggling.

I just don't understand why it is so easy for average citizens to legally own firearms.  Other than law enforcement, I've only met three, perhaps four people in my life who own a firearm.  Two of them were antique hunting rifles that probably don't even work.  I don't think that is the case in the USA, and I'm not sure why Americans en masse aren't rising up for better gun control.  Another horrific attack on elementary schoolchildren happened today in China [link], the difference being that the attacker had a knife, not a two handguns with a third rifle in the car.  Zero fatalities in China, twenty-seven in Newtown, Connecticut.  This article [link]is worth a read about why now, even as the country grieves, is the time to get political about gun control.

Another article [link] that resonated with me today makes a note of the fact that Jesus himself was almost the victim of a horrific massacre of young children.  I can't help but asking that same question I alluded to in my last post in regards to when my husband had cancer: why?  Why did this happen?  To children?  And grown-up children?  There are no words, no answers that can satisfy.  But, the author of this article also clings to the same hope that we are not alone, and advent is a present reminder of this truth.  God has not abandoned us to our own evils.  On a day like today, sometimes hope is the only thing left.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Eight Years

Yesterday, O popped open the number nine door on his advent calendar and found a star-shaped chocolate.  He savoured the waxy chocolate; I savoured the moment.  In the midst of the frenetic bustle that is Sunday morning in our house, I paused for just a moment to hold my four year old, my arm around my one year old on the couch beside me; the children we thought we'd never have.  I could hear my husband preparing his coffee in the kitchen.  We used to be the "no-coffee duo" but he took a sudden liking to coffee a couple of years ago.  Things can change in a  matter of years, or in a matter of seconds.

Yesterday, eight years ago was the worst day of my life.  For a long while, every day after that was the worst day of my life.  I used to mentally run through the events of that time in my life habitually, like a recording in my mind jammed onto repeat mode.  Last night, while brushing my teeth before bed, I let the recollections of those days bounce around in my mind again.  A torrent of emotions formed one sentence on my lips: "I was so scared."  I was overcome with emotion when I remembered how utterly scared I was.  Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma was my husband's diagnosis that day, a very large diffuse large b-cell primary mediastinal tumour.  I slept at my parents' house that night, while he waited to be transferred from Langley to Vancouver General Hospital.  The glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling were still there from when I stuck them up there in my teens.  I think I stared at them all night long, numb.

I remember making phone calls, frantic phone calls that first night, and agonizing phone calls throughout the next day.  I remember the ER doctor in Langley hugging us, and saying "This is shitty."  Thank you, Lord, for people who break protocol and reach out to the broken.  I remember waiting for my husband to get out of surgery, and wanting to be there for any bit of news that the doctors would give him.  The guilt of not being with him the first time cancer was mentioned earlier that day still visits me regularly.  I remember walking through the drugstore a few streets away on a quick break from the hospital later that week and feeling angry, though I knew it wasn't justified, that people were just going about their regular lives, and Christmas music was blaring in every store.  Didn't they know?  I remember agonizing about the news that awaited my in-laws upon their return from a cruise.  I thought about our second wedding anniversary, just a few weeks away, about the life with children we had imagined.  About life together.  I thought that it was more than we could bear.  This wasn't the way it was supposed to be.

It was a desperate time of seeking answers, but not wanting to hear them at the same time.  I asked for numbers, and chances, and statistics, and wanted to un-know the answers as soon as I heard them.  I pored over scripture and stories of hearings, and prayed more than I had ever prayed before.  I wanted to know what the outcome was going to be, and I wanted to know why this was happening.  After eight years, I know that the 'why' isn't always the point.  I would have hated to hear that at the time, but it's starting to make sense to me now.  Is there any answer that would satisfy the need to understand intense suffering in this life?

One thing I do know is compassion.  Our God is full of compassion for us.  I wrote in a previous post about when our friend/pastor at the time came and visited us that first week in the hospital:  He prayed for us and reminded us of this story of Jesus weeping.  Here is a saviour who wept, all too acquainted with the immeasurable sorrow of death in this world.  When I imagine Christ weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus, I imagine him weeping not only for his personal loss of a dear friend, but at the greater sense of loss.  I think he wept knowing, more than any of us, that this is not the way things are supposed to be.

We experienced such compassion from other people during that terrible time.  There were people who were truly the hands and feet of Jesus to us in those days.  Doctors and nurses cared for us with genuine care and selfless dedication in their time and efforts.  We were incredibly blessed to have friends who became as family to us, and to have family who managed to hold us together despite their own grief, stress, and fragility.  People, many of whom I'm sure I'll never even meet, who heard our story and prayed for us, bringing us before the One who heals.  I'm so thankful for all of these people who cared for us; it was like they placed us in the intersecting portion of a Venn diagram of how to care for two very broken people.

Most of all, I'm thankful to God for healing my husband.  For giving us two beautiful, sweet baby boys after we were told that we likely wouldn't be able to conceive.  For continuing to teach me that God is good, God can be trusted, and teaching me to give up the burden of worry and anxiety.  I'm reminded in this season of advent that God has compassion on us, and our brokenness in this world, compassion that brought the King of Kings to enter into our world.

German paper nativity scene, 1885 (Wikipedia)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Time to Play The Price is Right!

My church is having a craft sale this week to raise funds for the temporary shelter we run for part of the winter in conjunction with some other local churches.  I'm donating up these crocheted creatures, but I have no idea how to price them.  It's been ages since I've been to a craft fair, and when I do go, I'm usually looking for ideas and not at prices (vendors just love people like me!).  Any suggestions?  

Mouse Madge

Ferdie and Gerd


The jellyfish cousins


I'm also donating some of these egg ornaments too...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gratitude: Laughing at Myself

The ability to laugh at oneself seems a peculiar thing to be grateful for, but today I realized it truly is a gift.  After reminiscing with my Mom over a cup of tea about some of my embarrassing moments, she said "Well, at least you can laugh at yourself over these things.  Some people would never tell anyone it it happened to them..."

Packed into the local paper today, along with an ever-increasing number of store flyers vying for our Christmas shopping lunacy attention, was a glossy four page advertisement for a jewellery store.  I don't particularly desire to have any more jewellery than I currently wear, but I have to admit that I love looking through those flyers.  It's like every time I walk past the crystal figurine display at Costco and I can't help but get pulled into the vortex of sparkle even though I think the figurines are kind of hideous at the same time.  I chuckled as I flipped through the first few pages of this flyer, remembering the last time a similar flyer came to our house.  O and I cut out pictures of the jewellery and fashioned them into pretend rings, bracelets, watches, and necklaces with some tape and mad cutting skills.  We were in the midst of selling our own house, but didn't have any showings scheduled that day, and baby T was down for a nap.  When a family knocked on the door and requested to have an unscheduled browse through our house, I proceeded to guide them through the house, totally bedazzled in my paper jewellery.  It was only after a few minutes that I remembered the jewels and there was no point in trying to discreetly remove my bling at that point.  Maybe they saw my fake jewels as a sign of our desperation to sell that house and move up in the world, because they made a rather sad offer on our house after that!  

My absolute favourite story in terms of laughing at myself, however, comes from my university days.  I have a feeling that I've shared this story before, though I can't seem to find it through the search engine on my blog.  In any case, if I'm repeating this story, my apologies.  I know I wrote it long ago on my old xanga blog, but it's worth retelling here if I haven't already done so.  I was too cheap to spend money on textbooks that I knew would only be used for one or two weeks of the courses, so I would often try to track down copies of the texts in a library, or photocopy poems from reference books in the library instead of buying another Norton Anthology of Poetry.  Sometimes, the only copy that I could find of a poem was from an old book, using a different typeface.  I didn't realize, at the time, that in some older typefaces, the letter "s" more resembled the letter "f" than "s".  As fate would have it, I was asked to read aloud in class Charlotte Smith's "Sonnet Written at the Close of Spring" and I read every "s" as if it were an "f".  Give it a try:
THE GARLANDS fade that Spring so lately wove,
  Each simple flower which she has nurs’d in dew,
Anemones, that spangled every grove,
  The primrose wan, and harebell mildly blue.
No more shall violets linger in the dell,
  Or purple orchis variegate the plain,
Till Spring again shall call forth every bell...
Oh, Charlotte.  I'm sorry I ruined your Sonnet.
Oh, I have laughed until my cheeks beg me to stop so many times about this gaff.  It was pure hilarity.  A classmate of mine, who happened to be a friend from my high school days, thankfully stopped me after about four or five lines and said that her edition was slightly different.  You don't say.

I'm glad that I'm able to laugh at myself.  If not right away, I know that many embarrassing situations will be laughable one day.  Some of these stories are just too entertaining to keep to oneself too...I know that my linguistic mishap has provided many other people with much laughter.  The real gift, however, is not that I should somehow congratulate myself for being able to laugh at myself.  My initial reaction in situations like this is fight or flight.  I'm too wimpy to fight and not the fastest runner, so hiding is the next best option.  The thing that I am grateful for it that I've been given people in my life: parents, sisters, a husband, two sweet sons, friends and other family who give me love, acceptance, perspective, and have fostered a sense of humour about my not-so-sparkly moments.  Though I still deal with anxiety and self-conciousness on occasion, I know that when I make a fool of myself, I'm still loved.  And it just might provide some good laughs someday.  

There are the funny not-so-sparkly moments, and there are the moments that we all (I think) experience of inner brokenness.  The times when we are foolish, selfish, greedy, impatient, pious, or just sad.  More than any of the wonderful people in my life could humanly provide, I know that I am (and you are too, by the way) still loved by the One who made us...  

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 8:38-39

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gratitude: Healthcare

My month-long hiatus from blogging was precipitated by a bad case of the Novembers.  Poor November, it suffers from being sandwiched between the crisp, colourful allure of early Fall, and the still, frosty sparkle of Winter coziness.  I've always much preferred the timing of Canadian Thanksgiving to that of the American Thanksgiving, but this year had me thinking that November could use a more cheerful holiday than Remembrance Day, and a reminder to be thankful.  Add to the deluge of November rains a never-ending root-canal saga, a rear-end collision and whiplash, and the realization that the cold and flu viruses of winter have come out to play, probably until mid-April, and I adopted a rather ungracious attitude as of late.  I've missed the creative outlet of blogging, and I need to choose an attitude of thankfulness to squelch the Novembers, and so I intend to embark on a blogging adventure of regular explorations of gratitude.

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry novembre by Jean Colombe
He looks a mite happier about November than I do.  And he's even tending pigs.
First Exploration of Gratitude:
Our Canadian medical system is by no means perfect, but I am so thankful for our medical care.  I was reminded how deeply I appreciate and feel fiercely protective of our socialist medical system when somebody at a dinner party I recently attended suggested implementing a user fee for visiting a family doctor, perhaps a fee of $25.  When my son woke up crying and in pain with an earache a couple of nights ago, I didn't need to decide whether I could afford to take him to the doctor in the morning.  My decision was momentarily in question when I thought about catching something worse (i.e. stomach flu, which is exactly 8 times worse by my latest calculations), but I didn't have to decide whether I should spend money on food or medical care for my family this week.  He now has antibiotics for an ear infection.  We did pay for that ourselves, and there are numerous other items that we or our extended medical plan would pay for.  But, when true medical crisis strikes, we are all generally given good, fair medical care.   When my husband had cancer eight years ago, the medical system pumped tens of thousands of dollars into his body to make him well again, and we paid very little.  Our medical system isn't free, but in my humble opinion, it's pretty fair overall.  I do believe that if we had been living in a country without universal care and could not afford private insurance, such as the USA, we would either be in debt for the rest of our lives, or my husband might not have even been given treatment.  It is incomprehensible to me how a nation as prosperous as the USA does not provide adequate, fair medical care to its citizens.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, my family has opted to give gifts to charities at Christmas time instead of exchanging sweaters, gift cards, and scented candles that never get used.  We buy gifts and the exchange cards, explaining what the gift is, and how it will be used.  Sometimes, if we have our ducks in a row early enough, we make small gifts or tree ornaments to go along with the charity gift to remind the recipient of the real gift that has been purchased in their name.  For me, one of the most meaningful and memorable gifts was the supplying of a medical clinic in a developing nation the year that my husband went through cancer treatments.  It was so moving to think about the people who would benefit from me not getting another red sweater, and instead receiving life-saving medication or treatments that I had, until that year, taken largely for granted.  The years that I had my baby boys, I gave the gift of equipping midwives in developing nations with equipment and training to help bring healthy babies and mothers into the world.  I encourage, you to consider giving up your red sweater or itunes gift card this year and instead requesting a gift for someone else, in honor of the gift of medical care you've received.  Will such a small action make a difference?  I guarantee it makes a difference for the person on the receiving end of your generosity, and small acts have an inspiring effect on never know what the impact of your generosity will be!  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Can Can.

As I have previously alluded to, I tend to be somewhat...obsessive in my hobbies.  I started compiling a "canning and preserving" type birthday present for my older sister this summer as she had expressed an interest in it.  She has a beautiful, large vegetable garden, and preserving is one way to actually use forty zucchini that ripen at the same time!  I bought her Canning for a New Generation, a fantastic book that I had taken out of the library at one point, a few canning tools that she didn't already have, and then proceeded to check out every canning and preserving book I could reserve at the library.  Somewhere along the line of copying interesting recipes for her from the stack of books, I caught the canning bug.  It wasn't always pretty.  Some evenings ended like this photo (note the time on the clock, p.m.), with jars that wouldn't seal, and with the knowledge that my sweet but still-not-sleeping-through-the-night child would be wailing in a couple of hours.  A few hours after that, they would both be up for the day with much more energy than me.  Sigh.

But practise makes perfect, or at least some good jars o'jam, and some hilarious reactions from my husband to our growing collection of jam.  Little did he know that I was already onto planning my adventures in pickles.  He's a gem, just like my gem coloured jams.  He even smiled when I bought these brass duck bookends at the thrift store even after I indicated that my brass animal decor collecting was over.  Turns out that seven is perfect number of brass animals to have in the home, not five.  And four of them got spray painted, so they don't really count, anyhow.

Dollar-fifty for the pair!  Really, who could resist?

Above is a sampling of my first batches of jams, jellies, and fruit butters: Top row: Grapefruit Marmelade, Watermelon Crabapple Jelly,  Apple Cinnamon Butter, Bottom row: Blackberry Raspberry Jam, Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade Jam, Concord Grape Jam, and Plum Jam.  The grape jam is probably my favourite.  The grapes came from my Grandma's grape vine, so they had no pesticides or other sprays, without paying the price of organic grapes.  Win.  I once bought organic grapes and it wasn't until I got home that I realized I had just paid close to thirteen dollars for a bunch of grapes.  Eep.  I've always enjoyed store-bought grape jelly, but grape jam with the grape skins has just the right balance of sour and sweet, and it's the most beautiful colour too.
Making your own jam has a few benefits over store-bought jam.  You can create flavour combinations you won't find in stores (Ginger-Peach, Strawberry-Thai Basil, or Raspberry Cocoa Jam, to name a few), it's usually much cheaper, you can avoid artificial colourings and preservatives, and it just tastes better, in my humble opinion.  I'm allergic to oranges, and after reading in all the canning books that pectin, a natural gelling agent for making jam, is usually made from apple or orange skins, I realized that I've been eating oranges hidden under the "pectin" label of ingredients for a long time.  Some recipes call for powdered pectin, but it's easy to find recipes that don't use pectin, or even to modify recipes to take out the pectin.  This also serves as a good excuse for my latest hobby - I practically have to make my own jam then, right?!
Peach jam, bean pickles, carrot pickles, and good old cukes. 
I've done all of the work on the stove after the kids are in bed because two boiling pots and two active kids are not a good combination, but just to prove that I haven't abandoned them for sweet spreads, here is some photo proof.

I love these guys!

This crazy slide at the pumpkin patch was pretty much a free fall with a big bang at the end!

A perfect day for picking apples at the pumpkin patch.  

Here are some of my picks for canning books for anyone who is interested:

Canning for a New Generation by Lianna Krissoff

 You Can Can from Better Homes & Gardens

Can It! also from BHG

Happy Jamming!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You Are Special

"High school is never over."

I seldom remember quotes from movies, but this line had me in stitches when I heard it in "The Jane Austen Book Club."  Perhaps it became memorable in my mind because it is true, and, paradoxically, not true.  I was lucky enough to have, in retrospect, a pretty decent high school experience.  My parents sacrificed financially to send the three of us to private school, a decision that was also difficult given that both my parents were educators in the public school system.  It was a fantastic school, and I have many fond memories of my years there.  I was never one of the popular kids, but I had good friends.   Despite my relatively fortunate circumstances, high school is never easy.  My teen years, like those of most people, I surmise, were emotionally intense, fraught with social anxieties, skewed self-image, and a sense that my identity and how people viewed me were solidified for all time.  I don't know that I ever truly realized at that age that I was still growing and changing, and that I would continue to do so as a person for the rest of my life.  After spending the majority of my time with the same group of peers every weekday for so many years, it was hard to imagine a life outside of that social structure.  I assumed, even if I didn't consciously process it as such, that I would always be the Andrea who was told to speak up in class, was hopelessly uncoordinated in team sports, and was a shoe-in for the public-speaking spoof award.  Who was the brilliant one who approved giving spoof awards to self-conscious teenagers at a school event anyways?
Fourteen years later, I am a different person.  And, as a side note, how old does it make me feel that I graduated fourteen years ago?  Quite old.  Life changes us; people change us.  High-school ends, and the memories of the box I was in fade.  And yet, on a rare occasion, something will trigger a resurrection of high-school me.  A random flashback, or a chance meeting of a high school peer will flip a switch somewhere inside me, and I can momentarily remember what it feels like to feel so...alone, even in the midst of people.  And for a moment, I realize that there's a part inside me where high school is never over.
I'm heartbroken about the almost-sixteen year old girl from my area who took her own life this past week.  Every time I leave town, I see the banner created in her honour stretched across the underpass and I wish there was a way to turn back the clock and pull her out of the deep end.  I wish she had known that high school does end; there is life on the other side.
High school does end, and on the other side, you come to realize that you are not alone.  You are worth so much more than you can imagine, and you were created for a purpose.  Away from the constructs of high school and the insecurities of being a teenager, we have more in common that we think: we endeavour to find love, careers, purpose, and family.  We all, sooner or later, face heartbreaks, setbacks, and learn to fight for those we love.  There will always be unkind people who build up their own self-esteem by tearing down others, but bullies are generally in their prime in high school.  Life as an adult is not always easy, of course; there are still relationships to navigate.  The falseness of popularity, however, melts away over time, and you can choose whom you want to spend your time with.  You might even get a podium to eloquently put bullies in their place someday too...

I have to admit that I'm already nervous about sending my sweet, sensitive oldest child to kindergarten next year.  We sometimes read books about bullying, because we encounter kindness and unkindness pretty early on in life, whether we label it bullying or not.  My favourites so far are One by Kathryn Otoshi, and You are Special by Max Lucado.  We all need a little reminder sometimes that we are special, n'est-ce pas?  We are lovely because our Creator loves us.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


From Wikipedia:
Changes in hair color typically occur naturally as people age, eventually turning the hair gray and then white. This is called achromotrichia. Achromotrichia normally begins in the early to mid-twenties in men and late twenties in women. More than 60 percent of Americans have some gray hair by age 40, but white hair can appear as early as childhood.

I remember discovering my first grey hair at twelve years old.  Andrea, in the church library, with a book in one hand and a silver hair coming from head in the other hand.  Kind of like Colonol Mustard, in the billiard room, with the lead pipe; did anyone else play that morbid children's board game, Clue?.  It was kind of like discovering a crime on my own head.  My mom said that it was probably growing from a scar from the chicken pox I had as a baby, and I was content to accept that explanation.  

Fast forward twenty years, and I would peg my grey to brown ratio at about twenty-eighty, and progressing.  Quickly.  I know I can't be the only one, and yet it's rare to see anyone my age or even fifteen to twenty years older than me sporting the salt and pepper look.  I'm left to assume that most of us just start dyeing our hair, do we not?  Is it one of those things we're not supposed to talk about?

Emmylou Harris
I wish I could dye my hair without worrying about the health consequences, but I can't.  Since the cosmetics industry in Canada is self-regulated, I tend to be rather skeptical about the ingredients in toiletries and cosmetics.  Ever since my husband had cancer, a cancer that is on the rise in Canada and is linked to exposure to chemicals, we do what we can to avoid unnecessary risks.  Allergic reactions to hair dye are also particularly nasty and unpredictable, even if you've been using the same hair dye for years.  Google that for some unsettling photos.  I've used hair dye a few times in the past ten years, for times when I've been in weddings, or just felt particularly alone in grey frump-land.  After consulting the Skin Deep cosmetics database to find the least harmful dye,  I delved into the land of feigning hair colour, even still with qualms about the impact on my health in the future.  And, I do recognize the irony that perhaps anxiety is responsible, at least in part, for going grey!  Also, committing to dyeing my hair consistently for the rest of my life would be a costly and time consuming committment!  But...oh how I liked erasing those silver threads, those lines of evidence that I am not seventeen anymore.  Men can somehow get away with going grey with shades of being "distinguished" or "established" more easily than women.  We don't get to be silver foxes.  

Aside from the physical health aspect of dyeing hair, I sometimes wonder at the effect on self-esteem when we collectively alter the standard archetypal image of an aging woman.  I feel like applauding when I pass a woman on the street who has grey hair, especially stylish grey hair.  It gives me hope that one can age gracefully and authentically.  I don't think it's wrong to dye one's hair, but there is something to be said for being comfortable with your body as it ages.  It's not as easy as dismissing hair colouring simply as vanity though, because the continuum of vanity runs from combing your hair and washing your face, to surgically altering your body for the sake of appearance.  Every individual must find her own level of comfort on that continuum, a decision that is informed by family, friends, and culture.  What is excessive, costly, or painful to one person may be a non-issue to another.  That level of comfort is usually not static either.  I would like to be able to be comfortable with either dyeing my hair or not from time to time, just as I'm now fine with leaving the house with or without makeup.  There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I wouldn't fathom going out to a social engagement without "putting my face on."  I stopped the makeup routine when my husband had cancer too, although it was because I knew that there was a reasonable chance of unanticipated tears at some point during the day, so what was the point of putting makeup on and getting raccoon eyes, and not because I was thinking about chemical exposure yet.  Once I got out of the routine of wearing makeup, it was actually very liberating.  I still wear makeup when I feel like it, and I'll probably dye my hair again if my anxiety about health issues wanes.  

Vogue Fashion Writer Sarah Harris
Our physical appearance should not be the basis of our self-image and confidence, but we cannot divorce ourselves completely our feelings about our bodies.  It's a complicated dance for women to feel comfortable in our own bodies, decide what level of physical enhancement we are comfortable with, and not to feel as though we are being vain or prideful if we ever reach that state of peace with our bodies!  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dear Summer.

Summer, please stay for a while.  We like you.

Bears are amazing to see when you are in your car.  O wanted to get out and pet the bear, so hubby told O that bears are beautiful but wild.  After thinking a few minutes, he said "But Mommy is beautiful too..."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Favourite Things in 2012...So Far

One of my favourite posts to write was the one about my favourite things in 2010.  At one point, I started to write a list of my favourite books, movies, culinary discoveries, and other items of interest from 2011, but stopped when I realized that 2011 was a bit of a dry year in regards to any of the aforementioned.  Between being pregnant, having a baby, leaving our previous church (on good terms, just for the record), putting the house up for sale, moving into my parents house, surgery, and house-hunting, I didn't expand my extra-curricular horizons.  I don't know if I read a single book that year.  However, I've found a few new favourite things thus far in 2012 that are begging to be shared before the end of the year:


The more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy it.  Check out Everyday Prayers by Scott B. Anderson.    Scott and his wife, Janet, lived across the hall from us the first year we were married, and Scott pastored a church plant that we were part of for several years.  I'm convinced that even if I didn't know them personally, I would still love this album; it's that good.  In addition to her amazing voice, Janet is also a very talented artist; you can see some of her work here.  

A few months ago, as you may remember, my childhood dreams came true and I met Michael W. Smith.  His backup band at the concert was a pleasant surprise, even though I was hoping for the original backup band from "Go West Young Man."  Perhaps then he would have sung that song?  The whole evening, I couldn't quite catch the name of the band, L'Angelus, pronounced "Lawn-jay-loose."  I suppose I should have clued in that it was a French name when they started singing in French during their set.  I would describe their music as an unusual but successful blend of cajun and country, and their stage presence as very inspiring.  I kind of wanted to become a rock star when I watched them.  The main singer really has the hair tossing thing down-pat.  I would probably need a full time chiropractor on tour with me if I moved my neck like she did.


Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay
This was a difficult, but moving book to read.  It is well written and captivating, but any book about the Holocaust leaves an ache in the centre of my being.  Although it is a fictional work, it is based on historical events, events that are so horrific I wish they were pure fiction.  I tend to avoid books about the Holocaust, but something stirred me to pick this one up at the library.  I learned some new things about the Holocaust in France, and sometimes I feel like we collectively owe a listening ear to those who perished and to those who were forever changed by the war, and a willingness to learn about their experiences.  When somebody I know personally faces a challenge or a trauma, the least I can do is to listen, to validate, to remember.  Is it any different on a collective scale?

All the Way Home, by Ann Tatlock
I finished reading this book one day last week instead of making a timely dinner for my kids.  It was that good, and their pre-dinner popsicles to tie them over were a hit.  From Japanese internment camps in America during WWII, Japanese prisoner of war camps in the Philippines, the Vietnam war, and the fight for civil rights in 1960s America, the author weaves a multi-layered story of prejudice, forgiveness, and hope.
My own prejudice almost stopped me from reading this book in the first place when I saw the name of the Christian publishing company on the back.  Strange, coming from a pastor's wife, right?  Perhaps I am a product of my post-modern university studies, but I don't enjoy reading books that come across as heavy-handed or contrived in their message, whatever that may be.  I want the ideas and the themes in a book to simmer and grow, not to be like a bucket of cold water sloshed over my thoughts.  This book convinced me that I've been too quick to judge Christian fiction.  Tatlock infuses this book with the message of Jesus in a way that is authentic, nuanced, and artistic.

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova
Alice, a brilliant Harvard professor and researcher, begins experiencing memory loss and confusion, which leads to a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimers.  This book is heartbreaking, but fascinating and imbued with some beautiful relationships.  Well worth reading.

If you are a reader, check out this website.  It's a fun way of keeping track of what you have read, in case you can't remember what you've read.  Or what you did yesterday.  Not really, but it does list recommendations based on what you've read and rated.


On a recent trip to Costco, a visiting vendor, Western Sage, was selling some delectable-looking honey.  I know what you are thinking - what honey isn't delectable?  But this was cinnamon honey, and I was sold as soon as I tasted the sample.  The jar is gone, and I'm not going to tell you how long it lasted in my cupboard. Let's pretend it was at least a couple of months, and that I didn't eat it almost single-handedly, shall we? I just checked out their website to see where I can buy some more since it was just visiting Costco, and in addition to their Cream Cinnamon Honey, they also have Cream Cool Mint Honey, and Cream Cappuccino Honey.  Mmmmm.  By the way, I'm not getting paid to write this, but...feel free to send me some honey, Western Sage, and we'll call it even!

Pink Lady Apples
I'm usually a Gala apple girl, but Pink Lady , also known as Pink Cripps are a new delicious discovery for me, though apparently they've been around since 1978.

Fritt German Candy
Several of the little shops in my new neighbourhood sell fun imported foods, and after seeing this candy at the checkout stand in numerous little shops, my curiosity got the best of me and I bought a pack.  Suffice it to say that several more packs have been purchased since then.  It has added vitamin C, so that has to count for something, right?

Random Likes:

I've been using molded foam pillows for many years, but decided to branch out and try a buckwheat pillow about six months ago when my previous pillow needed replacing.  It takes a few nights to get used to the crunchy sound of the buckwheat, but I love the way the pillow can be moulded to suit whichever way you happen to be sleeping.  It was also much more affordable that other pillows I've bought - only $25.

Recently I rediscovered the joy of bicycle riding.  There are oodles of fabulous trails in our new neighbourhood, so we are finally getting some use out of our bike trailer and enjoying some fun family bike rides.  Definitely my favourite form of bipedal locomotion.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Humble Pie

Remember this post, in which I wrote about some new wall art I was working on?  One of the pieces, as you might remember, was a large framed print from Ikea that we've had since we first got married, almost ten years ago.  The print was "Balconies on the Grand Canal" by Jonathan Pike.  I needed a change, for reasons explained in that post, so I used the back of paper to make this:

Guess who commented on that blog post?  Jonathan Pike.  The artist whose work I turned around to use the backside of the paper.  I thought it was a joke at first, then I hoped it was a joke because I was a wee bit embarrassed.  But, no, it was genuine.  Lucky for me, he was very gracious about the whole thing!
Check out some of his new work here.  I'm really liking "Salute at Dawn" and "Brighton."

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