Friday, July 27, 2012

Five Minute Friday: Beyond

 I'm joining with Lisa-Jo for Five Minute Friday.  For five minutes, we stop, drop and write.  Today's theme is Beyond. 

I stumbled outside all sleepy-headed to share a cup of coffee with God this morning.  Too bleary to form a coherent sentence, I began to praise God for His creation, for the beauty that is all around us.  There is beauty in the manicured lawns, in the wild forest and even in the teeny bugs that flit around me.  There is beauty beyond what I can see, in the highest heavens, in the deepest depths and on the microscopic level.  God is the ultimate creator and lover of beauty.  

 Sometimes my life doesn't feel beautiful.  Sometimes my life feels like a great big mess.  Yet beyond what I can see is a Master Designer with a master plan.  He is making all things beautiful and that includes me.
A fancy little bug that made its way into our tent while we were unpacking.  I love the detail! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I've Been Eating (And Cooking)

 My poor neglected blog! It isn't that I have forgotten about you, more that I just have way too much in my head.  So I've decided just to write about one of my favouritest topics ever today: FOOD!

 Although I haven't quite done enough cooking this month, I have had a lot of fun in the kitchen.  Near the end of April, I made three pies for my church's fish fry(well, two were for the dinner, one was to keep my family from being angry at me for giving away pie).  Originally I had planned to make apple pies, something I am well-practiced at.  Unfortunately, I only had enough apples for one pie and nowhere near enough fruit in the house to make anything verging on familiar territory.  I took a deep breath and ventured out into the unknown: cream pies.  It took several phone calls to my best friend's mother(who is a prize-winning pie maker) but I successfully made two chocolate cream pies.  This victory launched me into the scary new ground of meringue pies.  I read my cookbook very carefully and then, with Kian's help, made my very first lemon meringue pie.  I even squeezed the lemons instead of using bottled juice. Uber fancy, I know.  Having extra limes in my fridge(having been purchased to make coconut rice and beans), I then tried a Key Lime pie.  It was also delicious.  (Just in case you can't tell, I'm super-duper proud of myself. I made a meringue pie, twice!)

 Next up came the rhubarb.  I love rhubarb but neglected to freeze any last year. This made for a very sad winter as I waited not-so-patiently for spring and made puppy-dog eyes at those lucky souls who had excess rhubarb in their freezers.  I had planned to buy some at the market, but my FIL dropped off some gorgeous thick stalks from his garden instead.  Kian was so excited about the rhubarb that he followed me around with a stalk, demanding that I cook it.  Unfortunately I had a massive headache so was not able to cook.  But as soon as the pain let up a little bit, I stewed up some rhubarb for us.  It only took about twenty minutes and then we ate it piping hot on vanilla ice cream.  We were both happy campers.  On a side note, the smell of rhubarb is actually quite nice when you feel like you're going to die from a headache. I wonder if it could be used as a remedy...

 Part of the reason I was so desperate to get my hands on some rhubarb was to try this luscious cheesecake.  Now some recipes sound amazing, only to leave you disappointed.  Not this one.  From the shortbread crust to the sour cream topping, this is a cheesecake worth making. Oh, and it was quick and easy, for a cheesecake.  I made it in less than an hour and then let it cool for about three.  I can't say for sure since I didn't really let my family eat it, but I think it may become a household favourite.

 Yesterday my friend wrote about making iced coffee. My husband agreed to start the cold brew for me last night and I finished it this morning.  If you are a coffee person, try this! I'm out of condensed milk, so didn't get to try that version, but oh is it good! We did not make the full recipe, but it goes quite far. I am currently a very happy woman. :) I added almond extract to my third glass today and it was fabulous!

 Speaking of iced beverages, I made iced tea out of orange rooibos yesterday.  We were planting our seedlings today at the community garden plot and were asked to bring along snacks.  Since it's been rather hot, I decided to bring a refreshing beverage.  My kids adore iced tea of any variation and I wanted to clean out my tea cupboard, so it was a win-win.

 I have not wanted to turn on my oven since it's been so stinking hot. Instead I made these black bean and quinoa burgers for dinner.  They held together quite well on the barbeque and were eaten by the pickiest member of my household.  The burgers are a little on the bland side which made them perfect for him.  In addition to the avocado, I topped my first burger with a lemon sheep's cheese and the second with Bulls-Eye Guinness BBQ sauce.  Healthy and delicious!  For dessert, I made banana ice cream. What makes this "ice cream" fabulous is that it contains only one ingredient: Bananas!  After blending it, I stirred in peanut butter and chocolate chips.  A friend said she added a teensy bit of chocolate sauce making it decadent.  I will have to try that next time.

 Next on my list of things to do include making limeade(I still have leftover limes) and quinoa salad(yeah, I have leftover quinoa too).  I've also been looking at various grain-free lunch options. My children have been extra-picky recently, so I'm not sure what they'll eat.  Kian tried a celery stick stuffed with mashed avocado, topped with peanuts and then dipped in soy sauce.  The recipe needs work, but my older children have decided that they don't like avocado.  It's very sad, I know.  And now I'm thinking of how to make the perfect Asian-style celery(It's a Wonder Pets thing)...I hope you've enjoyed reading about my culinary adventures. I know I have. :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I started this post quite awhile ago, immediately after the incident.  However, I never ended up finishing it.  So here it is, written as if the incident had just happened. 

Have you ever seen a miracle?

 Our society doesn't really like miracles.  We explain them away, rationalize them as coincidences or  as exaggerations.  But I have to tell you, I saw a miracle today.  My story starts a couple days ago.

 On Wednesday, Kian fell and hit his head.  He cried a little bit, but was soon up and running again.  I watched him for 24 hours and when he didn't die, I breathed a sigh of relief.

 On Thursday, Kian fell and hit his head.  He cried a little bit more this time, but was soon up and running again.  I watched him for 24 hours and when he didn't die, I breathed a sigh of relief.

 On Friday, Kian fell and hit his head.  This time he didn't stop crying.  I cuddled him for about 45 minutes before Steve came home from work.  As he was still crying and not responding well to questions, we decided it would be best to take him to the ER.  As I was getting ready to leave, Steve decided to come along.  His parents agreed to take the older kids, so we dropped them off and headed to the hospital.  Kian's screams were quietening down, but only because he was falling asleep.  Unsure as to whether that was a good idea, I told him stories about other hospital visits on our drive.  He listened somewhat cheerfully as I recounted the tale of my very first concussion and the gash on his sister's head that required stitches. (Why is it that children like to hear stories of other people's injuries so much?)

 My poor little man was not happy to be at the hospital.  And we're not sure if it was because of the head injury or his screaming, but either way we got through triage fairly quickly.  Kian does not like to be touched by strangers even on the best of days, so getting his blood pressure taken and all the rest was not pleasant.  Thankfully my mad parenting skillz came into play as I convinced him that the blood oxygen monitor was a crocodile and the blood pressure cuff was a boa constrictor.  That calmed him enough to allow those procedures to happen.  Then he was back to screaming.  I think the whole waiting room was aware that he did not want to be there.

 Soon we were ushered back to the toddler area.  It was a cute little cubicle with a dinosaur bed and colourful dinosaur paintings on the wall.  Normally Kian would have been fascinated.  But all he did was scream.  Having been given permission for him to fall asleep, I cuddled him in and sang "I love you forever".  His cries to go home gradually faded out as he passed out in my arms.  Eventually I was able to put him in the toddler bed.

 When the doctor came, he informed us that Kian had a concussion.  He explained what to watch out for, what next steps would be and let us decide whether or not he needed a CAT scan then.  We opted out of it then, choosing to go home and watch him.  So back home we went to tuck our little boy into bed.  He slept well, but we didn't as we were up checking him every couple of hours.  At some point during the night, Kian woke up and asked to sleep in his own bed.  We breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he was back to normal. We were wrong.

 Waking up in the morning, I heard Kian whimper. At first I thought he was just stirring.  Then I heard him say something about having puked.  Steve got him and didn't notice anything but Kian kept insisting that he had thrown up.  And then the vomiting started in earnest.  Kian could not keep anything down.  Not only that, but he also couldn't answer questions about his siblings or his age correctly.  Fear gripped my heart.  Plunking Kian in the kitchen with a bucket, we hurriedly pulled together a bag and headed back to the hospital.  Steve dropped us off and then went to park the van and get us breakfast.

 I was very nervous walking back into triage.  I needed to let the nurse know that we had been there last night and that things were worst.  Communicating with people is often scary for me and I was concerned that miscommunications might happen, especially if the nurse was very busy.  As I first walked in, there was no nurse in sight.  But as I signed us in, the nurse came out to look at the sign-in sheet.  To my great relief, she was an acquaintance, the wife of a close childhood friend.  I quickly explained what was going on and she rushed us in to triage.  This time Kian wasn't fighting very much.  He was grumpy and almost not talking, but not screaming. I didn't know whether to be relieved or concerned.  Soon we were placed in a room in the critical part of emerg to wait some more.

 Waiting was scary.  Kian became stiller and stiller, talking in a voice so quiet that we could barely hear him.  Whenever we asked him questions, he would respond " tired..." in the saddest little voice we've ever heard.  I was terrified.  That was when I really started praying.  Until then I had been busy, wrapped up in getting us where we were supposed to be.  As we sat there, silently, I begged God to heal my baby.

 A new nurse came in, asking us the same questions we had answered many times previously.  After taking his history, she began to examine Kian.  He was lying so still and quiet.  But as she looked at him, he began to respond.  He let her touch him, then sat up and moved his arms and legs.  He began to answer questions and then, at her prompting, he hopped off the bed and walked with her to get a popsicle.  Steve and I looked at each other in amazement as Kian hadn't walked more than a step or two for 18 hours.  He came back happily with his popsicle that he proceeded to eat and not throw up.  Five minutes later, he began to climb the bed and slip through the rails on either side.  Kian was strangely, miraculously better.  We waited for the doctor to come back, mostly so he could send us home.  There was no other explanation but that God had healed our little boy.

 The doctor posited that perhaps it was a coincidence and that Kian had contracted a stomach virus at the same time as the concussion.  He advised us to feed him sparingly.  However, upon arriving at his grandparents house, Kian demanded food.  He ate like a starving man before running off to play lego.  Bemused, we rejoiced in his rambunctiousness.  It was a welcome change.

It's several months later and Kian is absolutely fine.  We are blown away by God's goodness and so thankful for Kian's complete recovery. 

Linking with Imperfect Prose today;

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Mexico Adventure(Part Five)

 New here? Wondering what story you've just stumbled into? The short version goes like this: Over March Break I journeyed to Mexico with 17 others to build a house for a family in need.  To get the long story, read Part One, Two, Three, and Four.  :) 

I have to start by saying that Tuesday was our hardest day.  There was a lot to process as well as some very real frustrations.  But perhaps I'll start from the beginning.

 I woke up to a chilly morning.  Everything I needed was laid out for easy access, allowing me to slip out without making undue noise.  I was left with a dilemma after giving up my shoes for 12 hours. Do I put socks on, keeping my feet warm, or do I go barefoot to keep my socks clean? Being slightly strange,  dirty feet seemed less repulsive than dirty socks, so off I went barefoot.  Thankfully, the cold and dirt didn't bother me nearly as much as I expected.

 The morning followed the same pattern as previous mornings; I woke up the cabin with a disgusting amount of cheerfulness, we attended chapel and then headed to breakfast. Our group was towards the end of the line, so some of us ended up eating outside at the beautiful blue tiled tables. Did I mention that it was chilly? Our fearless leader slid into a seat next to us only to quickly leap up exclaiming "Oh My Butt!" Clearly, shorts + cold tile seats = a chilly experience. Being the oh-so-mature crowd we are, we quickly adopted this as our new saying.  Instead of OMG!, we bring you OMB! Sadly, this did not catch on quite as well as we had hoped.

 Thankfully our sickie was feeling much better. She was excited to head out to the work site.  Due to our late start the previous day, we were slightly behind schedule.   Although tired and sore, we had plans, both to catch up and to score more air-time in the end of day video. Alas, these plans were to be sorely frustrated.

  If that Tuesday were to be summed up in one word, it would probably be "frustration". Our problems began with the guys on the roof running into some problems. Some of the pieces were not cut properly, leading to multiple rounds of measuring and cutting. Progress was stalled as we waited for those key pieces to be put in place. And on the roof, you could almost feel the frustration coming off of our lovely leaders, Toe and Tuff. Tuff works in the trade and as his frustration mounted, his language became a wee bit more suited to construction sites.  This became clearly evident when he almost fell off the roof.  Then he was frustrated and slightly embarrassed..After ensuring he was okay, the rest of us were amused.

 At times, this delay felt like a blessing. And in some ways it was. For our site was flooded with the neighbourhood children that day.  Since our guys couldn't be up on the roof or installing drywall, they played with the kids.  They gave piggy-backs, played tag, chase or soccer and just generally spent time loving on the kids.  The leaders agreed that it was best that our group spent time interacting with the neighbourhood instead of of standing around bored and frustrated.  Finally, after a morning of frustration, the framing was finished and the roof could go up.  The mood of those slated to work on the roof improved immediately.

 For the painters though, this was when we began to experience quite a bit of frustration.  Painting is a lot of fun, especially when you're under five. And it's something that everybody can do.  Even really little kids can hold a paintbrush.

At first we had a lot of fun painting with our friends. They really enjoyed slapping paint on and we had fun watching and helping, especially those that were still waiting for the framing to be finished.  After about an hour though, it started to get out of hand.  Not only did we have more kids than paint brushes, we noticed upon inspection that the painting was of very low quality.  Now to be fair, this is what you expect from small children. And it's not like we're professionals or getting paid for didn't sit right, especially after what we had observed the previous day.

 Because of the mother's job, our family was only able to come for the first and last day of the build. Lira and Steffie joined in with the painting crew. As we painted together, I observed how carefully Lira painted.  She went over every board, making sure it was just right.  To us, this was just a project, but to her, this was her home.  Lira's careful attention to detail stuck with me, spurring me on to greater effort. Sometimes it is easy to live in the land of "good enough".  Even before I noticed Lira's effort, the phrase "Do everything for the glory of God" was running through my head.  With both of those thoughts nudging me, how could I let slipshod work go?   We tried encouraging the kids to do better work, showing them how to paint carefully, but with the language barrier, that didn't go well.  We tried doing touch-ups, but every time we got out another paintbrush(that would have to be cleaned later), one of the kids would grab it out of our hands.  After several tries, I was done. So I confiscated paintbrushes, began to say"NO!" (Praise God for some words that are the same in both languages!), and started the painful process of repainting.  We did allow one boy to keep working with us.  He was a really hard worker, and once we figured out how to communicate, he did a great job.  I felt horrible about having to say no to those precious kiddos, but I also didn't want to let Lira down.  After all, this was her dream home.

 Unfortunately, our problems with the children weren't contained only to painting.  With probably close to twenty kids flooding our job site, demanding both attention and our stuff(because, sadly, gringos=handouts), it soon became overwhelming. We had brought along some treats to share with the children.  At first, when there were only a couple of children, it was fine.  But then more kept coming.  It became about kids coming to get stuff, instead of us sharing with our new friends. Some of the children became rather demanding.  And by demanding, I mean, literally demanding, grabbing things out of our hands, or even going into the van and getting them if we didn't hand it over.  Some of the older boys went into the pick-up truck and went through some of our girls' backpacks. You can imagine the violation my teenage girls felt after being handed back their personal possessions by a Mexican tween.  For some of us, Tuesday was the day we stopped saying the kids were cute, and started instead mentioning the absolute lack of manners or gratitude among the children we encountered.  Even cleaning the painting equipment became a challenge as the children grabbed it out of our hands because it looked fun and wouldn't take turns or allow us to explain how to use it.  Thankfully we had gotten very creative with using the little spanish we knew by this point.  Some of the kids were absolute gems and did listen once we figured out how to communicate.  Yet other kids broke my heart.

 One little girl in particular sticks in my memory.  She was young enough not to be in school, so perhaps four or five. Yet she was "big enough" to be in charge of her baby sister, and lugged her everywhere on her hip.  Several girls commented on how she seemed split, having to both be a caretaker and yet also wanting to play with the other children her age.  This girl had offered to paint, but I was restricting painters at that point.  Later when we were cleaning the brushes, she grabbed the tool out of another child's hand.  Since we were taking turns, I took the tool back.  But when that turn was done, I offered her a chance.  Well, that little girl was so offended, that she wouldn't even look at me.  When I tried to talk to her, she just walked away.  It was frustrating to know that this little girl was taking away a sense of hurt and rejection from our interaction.  I wanted her so desperately to know God's love through our time with her and yet that wasn't what she took away at all.  Both our interpreter and our job boss(a local Mexican) were busy trying to get us back on schedule, so they weren't able to help us navigate these difficult situations.

 Thanks to the hard work of our framers and roofers, we were able to catch up. We did stay longer on the job site than planned, but still managed to get back to the camp earlier than the day before.  Our group was very thankful for a chance at the showers before dinner!  We also had a chance to purchase more jewelry from the venders outside of the camp.  After the stressful day we had, it was nice to unwind a bit before dinner.  I ended up buying a necklace for my MIL, earrings for my mom, a doll and bracelet for Aris and slingshots for my boys.  After my shower(which felt AMAZING), I purchased some apple pop from the cafe.  Manzanita came in glass bottles and was both flavourful and refreshing while not being too sweet.  I enjoyed trying new sodas while in Mexico.  Manzanita was my clear favourite though.

 Between dinner and chapel, we attempted a walk to the beach.  However, once again we met with frustration.  When the adult team had been there in November, there had been easy access to the beach. Since then, some building had been done and the path to the beach was now blocked by a rather large wall.  Since this was fairly close to the military compound(as in, may have been part of it), we opted not to climb it.  After walking around, we found a sign promising public beach access.  So we followed a very interesting path to....a closed residential beach. We think.  Sometimes my translating abilities broke down.  However the guards made it rather clear that we couldn't get to the beach.  Instead we looked at the waves longingly and headed back to the camp.  I chose to walk, but some of our team got a ride instead.

 There we met with more frustration.  Thankfully mine was more comic as I argued with Blondie that no, unicorns don't fly! We had quite the fun conversation/argument with Guapo backing me up.  Meanwhile back at the camp one of the girls had found a cute little lost puppy.  Toe had the dubious pleasure of sorting out that mess.

 It was clear that Tuesday had been rough for the whole team.  Several people commented that it felt like Friday.  We were tired physically and mentally and some of us had headaches from not drinking enough.  I suspect I wasn't the only one taking advil that evening.  I was also in a lot of pain from my burn.  My arms had gotten fairly burnt the first day on the job.  Although I applied sunscreen extremely well Tuesday morning, it soon became obvious that it wouldn't cut it. However the only long sleeve shirt I had was my hoodie.  As I didn't want to get it covered in paint, I took off my sweater whenever I was painting.  This helped to protect my arms some, but by the end of the day, my arms were quite hot and sore.  During group time in the evening, I remember pulling my hoodie up in front of my face to hide my tears.  I was tired and in a lot of pain.

 The frustrations of the day, combined with the amount of pain I was in, did not leave me with an optimistic outlook for the next day.  We had been warned that Wednesday was the hardest day of the build.  Already I could see fractures in the team, places that were just waiting to rupture into an explosion.  I spent some time praying for a better day and then I collapsed into my nice cozy bed after applying even more aloe vera to my poor arms.  What a relief it was to go to bed!

 What will happen next?  Will Wednesday be an even harder day? What are we going to do with all those kids? And will we ever get to the beach?  I guess you'll just have to wait to find out....:)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on Good Friday

 On this, perhaps the holiest day of the year, we fought with our children.

 As we attempted to ready ourselves to remember Christ's death, my child threw his egg across the table, kicked my bad knee three times setting off a spasm of pain running from my shin to my hip, and had a screaming fit.  The full catalogue of his sins this morning runs much longer.  Unfortunately, he was not alone in his wretched behaviour.

 As the frustration and pain mounted, my husband and I were not in the holiest state of mind.  There may have been thoughts of running away, leaving our children far far away.  We may have mused about duct tape, baby valium and other less than beneficial parenting techniques.  And although our children did all end up in the van on time,  parental tempers were running high.

 At times like these, we pray.  As my husband pulled out of the parking space, I started to ask him to pray just as he began to beseech God for help.  Clearly, desperate great minds think alike.   He asked God for peace, for calm hearts and for hearts that were ready to meditate on Christ's death.  We did not feel ready to walk into a solemn worship service.  Going to a bar sounded much much better.  Unfortunately that was not the healthiest choice at 9:20am nor on today's schedule.

 Yet as my husband prayed, I was reminded of the real reason we observe Good Friday.  To walk into church carrying my frustrations and anger, being so very aware of my failure is to be ready to find the cross.  I'm not meditating on my self-righteousness, on how worthy I am of Christ's sacrifice, but of how desperately in need of it I am.  And Christ, in His great mercy, shed His blood for moments such as these, for sinners such as me.

 Perhaps my penitent, humble and needy heart was what caused me to go directly to the communion table this morning.  We were to walk the stations of the cross, ending with communion.  But I went directly there and then walked the stations backwards. Perhaps I needed the reminder that forgiveness is the beginning of new life and from there I can walk in freedom to live differently.

 The rest of the day was not without bumps.  But it was a lot better.  So I end the day thankful of all it brought, the good and the bad.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Mexico Adventure(Part Four)

On Monday, the first day of our build, I woke up earlier than normal. There was an enforced quiet time until 7am each morning. Although we were allowed out of our dorms before then, there was an expectation of silence. I quietly tried to get my clothes together, wincing at each little sound, certain I would wake up the rest of my dorm. This experience scarred me so much that each evening following I laid out everything I would need for much easier, quicker and quieter access.  After getting dressed, I slipped out quietly and crossed the road to the main courtyard.   There I sat on at blue mosaic benches, joining other leaders in some quiet time with God.  Soon after 7am, the first coffee of the day was ready.  After grabbing my cup, I continued journalling and reading through my book until the courtyard became too noisy.  Then I headed back across the road to wake up my crew.

 One thing you may not know about me is that I am not a morning person. I do not wake up talking(unlike my middle child), but making inarticulate sounds.  It takes me quite awhile to be able to think or speak coherently each morning.  (This has a lot to do with why my husband cooks breakfast for our family. There may have been a slight concern that I might start a fire if I cooked soon after awakening.)  However once I've been awake for a bit, I soon regain my typical enthusiasm.  Thus each morning after spending some time slowly waking up in silence, I woke the rest of the girls up with a disgusting amount of energy and cheer. I'm surprised no one threw anything at me.

 Monday morning brought with it a certain amount of trepidation.  Not only was this our first day building, but it was also our first shift in dish pit.  We rushed through breakfast, separating into groups, some washing dishes, others collecting what we would need for the day.  As I went to remind the cooler ladies of their tasks, it became obvious that one of our girls would not be joining us.  We had a sickie! While another leader tucked her into bed, I joined Dancer in collecting our cooler and water jug, both essential necessities for our day.  As the KP crew finished up, we slathered on sun screen, took a final bathroom run, filled our water bottles and headed out. Not surprisingly, we were the last team to leave.

 Following Ricardo, our build supervisor, through the bumpy dirt roads, we drove through the town and out into the countryside.  It was an experience.  From the tiny little shops selling all manner of interesting things, to the cars piled high with random objects, to the Spanish everywhere, we were surrounded by the new and unusual. I drank it all in, fascinated.  The mood in the van was significantly quieter than what it would be by the end of the week.  Most of us didn't know what we were in for so we waited to arrive at the job site with expectation and a wee bit of anxiety.  Would there be a bano?

 We turned off the main highway on to a steep bumpy dirt road.  I think I wondered if we would make it up that first hill each morning.  Slowly we followed the twisty road to what seemed like a bare forsaken spot that first day.  But as we disembarked from the van, we saw the concrete pad and pile of lumber under a tarp that marked our spot.  This was it, our job site.

 Joining with our family and their pastor, we began our morning with prayer, again setting a pattern for each day.  Then we began unloading the work truck and sorting the lumber.  Not being very strong, I was on the painting crew. We only had two sets of sawhorses, so after those were full we laid the rest of the panels on the ground.  In theory, this was a great idea. In practice it meant that at the end of the day I was so sore from squatting I could barely walk.  Thankfully I had a great painting crew working with me.  Some of our group switched out to try different tasks.  As painting was going to cause the least amount of damage to my hands, I stayed where I was.  One young man, Guapo, ended up sticking with me on painting crew, becoming my buddy for the week.

 The evening before, we had renamed my friend.  Pre-Mexico, he was a very quiet young man.  Even though he taught my son Sunday school for over a year, I hadn't gotten much out of him.  Even while preparing for our trip, he kept quiet.  One of the girls was determined to change that.  On Sunday evening, several of the girls were trying out pick-up line from the Spanish phrase book.  They called me over to practice on. I began correcting prononciation and soon started giving a brief lesson.  One girl wanted to know how to say handsome.  We looked it up, but the book listed "bonito" which is the masculine version of pretty.  Suddenly my high school Spanish kicked in and I exclaimed "Guapo! That's how you say handsome in Spanish!" Silly me, I then taught them that you could call someone Guapo, as in "Hey Guapo, how are you?" I gestured at my shy friend sitting across from me and just like that he was renamed. Guapo is very fun to say and yell, so it stuck.  And that is  how Guapo was renamed.

 Painting itself is kinda fun, somewhat monotonous, but mostly enjoyable. Especially if you wear sunscreen and don't burn your arms. (Note to self: When painting in Mexico, put sunscreen on your arms!) Where was I? Right, so while the painting part is fun, cleaning the painting tools is both fun, frustrating and time consuming.  The fun part is getting to put the rollers and brushes on the spinny thing and spray everybody with water. The frustrating part is how bloody long it takes you to scrape the paint off of the roller handles and mesh trays.  That part sucks.  And then knowing that tomorrow you will have to do this all over again.  Unsurprisingly we tried to use less brushes and rollers each day we had to paint.

 It was in this frustrating part where Guapo began to shine. Everything I asked him to do, no matter how frustrating or tedious, he did it.  Without complaining, without grumbling, he just nodded and kept on working.  I was beyond impressed.  By the end of each day, my hands were starting to swell. I wanted to do the hard jobs, but couldn't.  And every time I stopped being able to do the hard jobs, Guapo took over.

 The first day of our build was pretty amazing.  We started the morning with a concrete slab and a pile of lumber.  The day ended with the house framed, siding on and the beginnings of the roof framed. It was impressive progress.  The next day would bring even more.

 Following our ride back to the camp, I was so sore that I was walking like an old woman.  A shower helped, as did some advil and aloe vera.  My knee was swollen, my leg muscles ached and I had badly burned both of my arms.  However, even through the pain, I was really happy.  We had begun to build a house, bringing a dream to life for Lira, our mom.  She shared at the end of the day that she believed in miracles having seen one come to life before her eyes. I think we were all touched by that.

 Evening chapel began by showing a fun video of the day's work.  Our team accomplished less than the others as we began late, but it was fun to see everyone's work.  The day's end video became a highlight for all of us, even if our team didn't get featured as much. We weren't quite as goofy as some of the other teams.  Soon we segued into more weighty matters and at the end of chapel we were each challenged to spent 12 hours without our shoes.  If we chose to accept this challenge, we were to leave our shoes at the front of the room.  I hate going barefoot, but realized that I am privileged in ways I am not fully aware of.  Taking a deep breath, I slipped out of my chair and left my shoes at the altar.

 I was prepared to hate this experience.  Dust/sand on my feet is one of my pet peeves.  It drives me crazy.  Having to walk across the dirt road, take a shower and then walk with wet feet back to the dorm stressed me out.  But strangely it didn't stress me out quite as much as expected. In fact, my end reaction was rather surprising.  But my bare foot experience made me much more conscious of other people's realities.

 Soon it was quiet time.  Still not being quite adjusted to the time change, we were ready to go to bed.  The Child Whisperer led us in prayer and devotions again and then, long before lights out, we quieted down and went to bed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Encounter with a Stranger

I hugged a stranger yesterday.

While walking across the church parking lot to pick up my local foods order, a woman approached me.  I shared some coins with her as she asked if I could spare some change, but it was soon evident that she needed more than money.  I took the time to listen, to make eye contact, to ask and learn her name.   As she shared her story, I asked if it would be helpful if I prayed with her.   She didn't exactly answer my question, but later as she began to cry, I gave her a hug and whispered a prayer that she would know God's comfort.  I stayed about ten minutes, listening and hugged her about three times.

I know this was just one small encounter in a long hard life.  I'd be naive to think that it will make a tangible difference.  Yet I hope that for those brief moments I was able to be a physical representative of God's great love for this broken stranger.  He hasn't forgotten her and neither have I.

Linking up with Imperfect Prose;

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Mexico Adventure(Part Three)

 If you're new here, or a little lost, you can find more of my Mexico adventures here and here.

 Sunday morning I woke up bright and early.  Because of both daylight savings and the new time zone, I was awake well before the sun.  The sky was just starting to lighten as I headed out to the hot tub.  One of the leaders had told about watching the sun come up from the hot tub his previous visit here.  Unfortunately for me, the hot tub had been turned off so it was lukewarm.  I was both disappointed and a little worried that the exposure to cold would cause a relapse.  Soon I started coughing again, although I tried to hide it. Being ill was not in my plans for this week!

                                                                         Daybreak at Estero Beach, photo by Graeme Smith

The view was spectacular!  The resort was designed around the ocean view, with all the rooms, patios, pool areas and walkways allowing for wonderful views.  As our group met before breakfast, we were able to watch seals playing and waves breaking against the breakwater.  Later we took some quiet time which many of us spent gazing at the water.  One girl found a cozy spot among the rocks.  Nestled in the corner, focussed on the waves, she didn't hear the call for breakfast.  After the first inspection turned up empty, Toe and I went looking for her.  We were both a little concerned that we'd already lost one barely 24 hours in.  Thankfully I "just happened" to stop at the corner and find her in a spot Toe had already passed by.  We took deep breaths of gratitude and, gathering up our lost girl,  went to enjoy a Mexican breakfast.

                                                                Oceanview at Estero Breach, photo by Graeme Smith

  Breakfast was superb.  It was also interesting and different and perhaps a wee bit intimidating.  Having a less than pleasant experience with the soup the night before, I was careful about what I ate.  However I am a relatively adventurous eater. My somewhat proven technique when presented with strange foods that have no English description is to smell them.  This technique landed me in very good places that morning.  And my habit for managing my blood sugar levels with dairy landed me in a very happy place indeed!  Having observed the large spread of carbs, I added some cottage cheese to my plate.  Now I'm not a hater nor an aficionado of cottage cheese, merely a practical eater.  Oh my word! It was heavenly! Mexican dairy is amazing! I savoured every mouthful and went back for seconds of that creamy deliciousness.  One of the hardest adjustments to being back in Canada is the lack of amazing dairy products. *gazes off into space*

 So..where was I? *wipes drool off chin* Oh, right! The breakfast buffet...So I went around smelling all the dishes that I couldn't identify.  Since I hadn't figured out that Mexican eggs seem to be mostly free-range and thus a bastion of awesomeness, I avoided all the egg dishes.  However, I tried a warm cinnamon beverage, fried bananas with what looked like devon cream, sweet potatoes in syrup, fried tortillas coated in cinnamon sugar, and chilaquiles.  There were several soups, but I wasn't so sure about eating soup for breakfast.  That's a little out of my comfort zone.  Maybe next time.  I think I was one of the most adventurous eaters there, and I pointed others to the delicious little tidbits I found.  Definitely different from a Canadian breakfast but oh so good!  I've never had real Mexican food but I'm now a  fan!

 After breakfast, we spent more time on the beach before heading out.  First we dropped our bags off at the camp, and then headed to La Bufadora, about a 45 minute drive away.  We weren't quite as tired as the night before, but the energy level in the van was still quieter than it would be at the end of the week.  Sitting all close together tends to break down barriers, but we still didn't know each other that well.  We mostly took in the very diverse scenery and some rather interesting sights.  We passed stands selling jars of green olives, a horse painted like a zebra and took in many beautiful views of ocean and mountain.  Soon our van followed the twisty road down the mountainside into a very small town.  At first, I couldn't believe that we had arrived.  But as men started competing for our parking business,  I realized that this was indeed the big tourist attraction.  Parking at the edge of the market district, our plan was to walk past all the shops to the Blowhole itself, eat lunch at a restaurant close by and then so our shopping on the way back.

 It was an experience! Not only were the shops tightly packed with all sorts of eye-catching goodies, the vendors stood outside, yelling to attract business. As we were wearing our team shirts, the call soon became "Yellow people! Yellow people, over here!" It was hard to just keep walking.  I wanted to let them know we weren't ignoring them, but part of me didn't want to make eye contact later.  Sometimes we said that we would be back later, but this phrase caught up with us on our way back.  I was one of the last people coming up, and some vendors started yelling at us quite angrily, saying that we had broken our promise.  None of the team was in sight, so my young friend and I just put our heads down and kept walking.  It took only a few minutes to catch up with some other members, but those minutes  were scary.

 La Bufadora was an amazing place.  We just happened to arrive at high tide, so the geyser was spraying spectacularly.  I had trouble getting a good view, but I did see some very high blasts of water.  While we were there, Toe and I had a great conversation with a family from Alberta.  They were in Mexico for a year, helping at a school.  It was great to hear their story as well as to connect with fellow Canadians.  While we were talking, our group finished up picture taking and began to wind back towards the restaurant.  There were so many sights to see!  A group of musicians, a woman painting plates with her fingers, a baby tiger being fed from a bottle and kept in a crib.  There were drinks in coconuts, fried donuts, spears of mango, seafood and lots of samples.

 After a lunch at an interesting local restaurant, we began our shopping.  My eyes had been caught by some pewter and turquoise jewelry in a style I had been wanting for years.  The pieces I liked were at a vendor who was not only very friendly and respectful(some vendors were too aggressive), but was also connected to EOC.  While Toe engaged him in conversation, I picked over the pieces, finding two that I really liked.  It took some time to get his attention(which was unusual), and then I began the process of haggling the price down.  This custom was not something I have any experience or comfort with.  However, I felt happy with both my purchases and the price.  Those with experience advised us to pick a price in our head that we were comfortable paying, rather than worrying about being cheated.  Some of the teens did a great job haggling.  One girl calmly mentioned that she had been quoted a price significantly cheaper than what the vendor had offered.  Although he protested that his was much better quality, the price was quickly dropped.  I was very proud of my friend!

 Far too soon we had to make our way back to camp.  We were expected back to meet the family that we were building for.  After a brief introduction, we would share a meal together.  It was a special, but awkward moment.  We had known their names for over a month, had watched the video they had put together and been purchasing presents for the daughter.  Yet we were still strangers, separated by a language barrier.  At the first meeting, we also met Lucy who would be our translator for the week.  But when we got in the dinner line-up, Lucy disappeared.  It was up to us to find a way to communicate.  The daughter, Stephie(not her real name) was very shy.  I knew that she was about my daughter's age.  Using my very rusty Spanish, I asked how old she was.  Then I told her that my daughter was close to her age.  She stopped hiding and her mom began to talk to me.  As we ate, we slowly and carefully communicated.  I laughed inwardly as Lira spoke rapidly to me in Spanish.  I could have probably understood much more if she had spoken slower, but I couldn't remember how to say "slow down!"  My amusement came from remembering that many of my friends who are new to the English language accuse me of speaking too quickly.  I got a taste of my own medicine that evening!

 After dinner, our family left while we finished unpacking and settled in.  I was pulled into two different leaders' meeting, one all about the details of the build while the other focussed on who EOC is and what their ministry plan and philosophy is.  Having come with some questions, this session reassured me.  It was also great to get a sense for who the other teams were.(All four groups were from the United Church, which is both cool and unusual)  After the meetings, it was time for chapel. Again there was a quick introduction of the groups, followed by a time of worship and a brief message as well as an explanation of the camp rules and policies, including curfew.  Rhonda spoke about the other baggage we may have brought, things such as fear that might be holding us back.  She encouraged us to let it go, to embrace this new adventure.  After chapel, we met in our focus groups and discussed both our impressions of the first day and any rocks that might be holding us back this week.  I barely remember what we talked about, I was so tired.

 Quiet time came quickly, but we were so jet-lagged it was a relief.  Our group settled in quickly.  One of the girls led first a reading from the trip devotional sent by our church and then led us in group prayer.  I turned the lights out and silence quickly fell.  This would not be the norm  as the week progressed!  So ended the first full day in Mexico.  The next day would bring our first day on the build and our first time on KP.   Stay tuned....

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Mexico Adventure (Part 2)

So...I've gotten on the plane and landed in San Diego.  I believe I ended the last post with us crazy Canadians taking pictures of palm trees and tropical flowers with great enthusiasm.  After we collected our baggage, there was about a thirty minute wait while the drivers fetched the rental vehicles.  At first we were content to lounge in the sun and take pictures of the local fauna.  But eventually we started getting antsy. Having lost two hours in Toronto, we were in a hurry to get our shopping done and cross the border before dark fell.  To save space travelling, we planned to purchase certain items(like pillows and shampoo) in San Diego that would be either used up or left in Ensenada.  Unfortunately, the lost time caused our shopping trip and stop for dinner to be much quicker than planned.  Instead of a sit-down dinner, something desperately desired after all those hours of travelling, we ended up with McDonald's.

 By the time we ate "lunch", I was tired, hot and coming down with a migraine.  I was also feeling very frustrated.  Getting 18 people headed the same direction is an awful lot like herding turtles. However, I have lots of practice doing this regularly, so I took lots of deep breaths, found my advil and sat quietly. Eventually pillows were bought, everyone was fed, potty breaks had been had by all and we were on our way to Mexico!

 I was going to write that the culture shock started at the border, but for me it started driving through the city.  Although I have read quite a few articles on the situation in California, I was not prepared for the homelessness I saw.  While we were at a stoplight, I glanced over to see some homeless people hanging out in a courtyard.  There was a man, looking in rather rough shape, sitting on a retaining wall. He may have been missing an eye.  Lying just inside the shrubbery, was a woman, passed out.  Although he appeared to be mostly asleep, the man kept glancing over to see if she was okay.  Further in was a table, with another man sitting there sleeping.  My heart broke to see such poverty and desperation.  Possibly because it's much colder here, I don't see as much homelessness where I live.  It is there, just not as prevalent.  While I was still processing this, we passed a tent city.  Again, my heart was shaken by the reminder of the great need in our world.  The other kids seemed to be fine, even brushing it off, but my heart hurt.  A lot.

 The border was another piece of different.  Instead of uniformed custom officers, there were military men carrying large rifles.  Instead of many scanners and electronic devices, there were spring-loaded spikes that would blow tires if someone tried to back out. And once inspection was passed, there were more men with guns standing inside a barricade made of what looked to be steel pipes with spikes. Apparently this wasn't so much to keep people out as it was to ram vehicles and keep them from leaving.  Although the noise level in the van had climbing, the sight of men with guns quietened things down a bit.

 We immediately saw the difference after crossing the border. Houses were significantly smaller, closer together and everything was walled, fenced and/or gated.  There was also a lot more graffiti, although some of it may have been officially sponsored.  Beautiful murals covered some of the walls along the roadway.  To our left ran a large wall, topped with barbed wire.  This marked the divide between the United Mexican States and the United States of America.  Someone commented that it reminded him of the Berlin Wall.

 Soon we were out of Tijuana and on the road to Ensenada.  We passed through three toll gates, at least one of which had a military presence.  Interestingly enough, some of my girls were freaked out about this while another didn't notice until the way home.  When she saw the guns she commented "But they won't use them, right?" I'm not sure how reassured she was by my answer.  "Ummm...of course they use them.  But we're not smuggling drugs, so they won't shoot us".  I'm such a good youth leader! (HA!)

 The road we were on wound its way between the mountains and the coast.  What scenery we could see was gorgeous, but dark was quickly approaching.  Unfortunately the most scenic views were the ones we passed in the dark.  Our ride was rather uncomfortable as we had been sitting for most of the day already.  My tailbone was complaining, as were many other backs and shoulders.  As it was a hot day and a 15 passenger van, it was a struggle to properly regulate the air temperature.  As the drive wore on, we were all tired, and grumpy. Driving through Ensenada, observing the nightlife was interesting, but even people-watching barely took the edge of my exhaustion.  As we finally arrived at the resort, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

 Gathering in the gravel parking lot, we were quickly given room keys and broken up into our groups.  There was a fair bit of whining.  Even though we hadn't eaten properly, everybody was pretty miserable and just wanted to sleep.  But Toe, the youth pastor, decided we would meet by the pool area  in 15 minutes.  Until I opened the door to our room, my plan was to put on jammies and go straight to bed after the meeting.  But then I opened the door.

 Our room was spacious and appeared to be tiled in marble.  Upon later reflection, it may have just been nice ceramic, but oh did it look nice! There was a large bathtub, also tiled the same way.  And the large patio door opened up facing the Pacific Ocean.  Confronted with such beauty, we all suddenly found new energy.  Instead of jammies, bathing suits were put on and we raced off to the pool.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the hot tub was actually hot. (I take very hot baths, so often find hot tubs on the lukewarm side).  We hung out in the hot tub for quite awhile and then some of us jumped into the pool.  Even though I was recovering from pneumonia, I decided to swim in both pools.  It was lovely!  This was an interesting experience, because we were swimming after dark.  The area was well-lit, but it was still unusual for me.  My former-lifeguard husband frowns on swimming after dark.  I sometimes horrify him with my childhood stories of swimming in the Great Lakes after midnight.  Consequently, swimming after dark felt slightly naughty and wonderful all at the same time.

 Swimming revived me enough to be hungry.  I really wanted vegetables, having not eaten much of them, but ended up having a tortilla soup instead.  It did come with avocado and some other vegetables, along with queso fresco.  The cheese was the real reason I ordered it.  I have to be honest, the cheese in Mexico was fantastic! I'm not sure what everyone else thought, as not only did I thoroughly enjoy the cheese, I raved about it to everyone in earshot. Many times. With great passion.   Unfortunately, there was something in my soup that didn't agree with me, so I ended up not finishing it.  My flan, however, was creamily delicious.   The food wasn't the only exciting thing about our dinner experience. I was also enthusiastic to note that I could accurately translate a large portion of the menu.  It was a good sign that my three years of Spanish weren't entirely gone to waste.  As the week wore on, more and more of my Spanish skills would return.  Some people may have complained about that...

 Refreshed and with full tummies, our group headed off to bed.  My girls settled down fairly quickly. As soon as we quieted, it became obvious that there were rooms overhead.  The chandelier rattled each time our upstairs neighbour walked across the room.  After what felt like forever, he/she went to bed and so did we.  The next day promised to be busy as we were to visit La Bufadora and head to EOC, where we would spend our week.

I apologize for the delay in presenting this installment. It's taken me two days to write.  Hopefully the next one will come faster. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Mexico Adventure-Part One

On Saturday, March 10th I woke up super-duper early. Like 5am early. I recognize that this isn't early for some, but for was a stretch.  I was so excited that I had barely slept, so nervous that I set two alarms...just in case one didn't work.  When I finally did fall asleep, I dreamt that I was getting ready to leave, but that my possessions kept getting lost, my hoodie even disappearing off my back.  I woke in a panic, convinced that I was running very late, but was only 4:30am.  Eventually the alarms rang and I leapt out of bed, ready to go.

 Our team was heading to Mexico, thirteen teenagers and five adults.  I was excited and yet, so very nervous.  Five days before, I had been diagnosed with pneumonia.  I had been unable to move, racked by coughing spasms and just generally miserable.  Now here I was, boarding a plane to fly across the country and then go build a house.  Somehow this didn't sound like the best idea.  But the doctor said I was able to fly and I really really wanted to go, so off I went.

 We gathered at the church at 6am, weighed our bags, were prayed over by the minister, kissed our family members goodbye and then headed out.  Strangely all of the adults ended up in the same vehicle.  Although we laughed a lot, it felt a wee bit awkward as I didn't know any of them well, except for the youth pastor. That would soon change!

 It soon became obvious that trying to get 18 people anywhere quickly is a losing proposition.  And it didn't help matters that one of the girls decided to put her contacts in just as our group was being led somewhere to check in.  As the group "mom", I also became the designated herder and the one who brought up the rear.   Eventually we got everyone checked in and then started filling out customs forms.  Slowly we made our way through customs and security.  One of the younger girls was the first from our group to go through customs.  The poor girl approached the officer with much fear and trembling, prompting him to ask for the guy in charge.  They exchanged words, seeming all official-like. It turns out the officer was just asking if the youth pastor was nuts to take a group of teens on a trip. That became a somewhat recurring theme.  As for me, the customs officer greeted with a "And where are you going today, young lady?" I grinned extra large as I answered him while passing over my passport.  He kept his facial expression impassive, so I'm not sure what he thought when he saw my birthdate.  However, I was pretty happy. This again became a recurring theme as I was mistaken for a teenager multiple times on the trip.  I was not complaining!

 We hurried to our gate, only to find that our plane had been delayed.  We were raring to go, so it was frustrating to wait for almost two hours before finally leaving.  The flight itself was lovely, with clear skies. With a window seat, I was able to pick out landmarks.  The onboard map wasn't working, so I had to guess but I correctly identified Lake Huron, Sarnia, Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, the Rockies, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.  It was very interesting to fly over parts of the US that I had only read about previously. I had fun taking pics out of the window.

 As soon as our group landed, we began to strip down.  It was below zero(celcius) with snow on the ground when we left.  In San Diego, it was a beautiful sunny day.  It sounded almost indecent as this group of Canadians walked into the sunshine.  As a group, we involuntarily started emitting groans of pleasure.  Frankly, it was a bit awkward.  But oh did that sun ever feel good!  We had lots of time to soak up the rays as the drivers went to fetch our rental vehicles.  After laying in the sun for awhile, we began to take pictures of the greenery around us, especially the palm trees.  I may have exclaimed over the palm trees multiple times, to the general amusement of the group.  Apparently I don't get out much.  I also really liked the birds of paradise.  I'll leave you with these pics and the promise of more tomorrow.  I simply must get to bed! :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

On Return

 The silence seems deafening.

 I sit, mostly alone at my computer, catching up on emails.  The boys are being tucked into bed, the girl putters around upstairs getting ready.  I feel so isolated.

 The past week has been spent living in close community, pressed up against seventeen other individuals.  Personal space was found only in the tiny cubicle of the washroom as others waited noisily outside.  We slept eleven in the girls room, and travelled with 15 squished into a van and 3 in a pickup, exactly as many seats as bums.  The idea of personal space quickly became a foreign concept as we embraced the lack of space.  There was much spooning, hand hugs, and squishing.  We hugged a lot.  And, until I turned the lights out at night, there was always noise.

 Now that I've left the land of dust, mountains and ocean behind, I'm readjusting to living with space.  We've been released back to normal living and I for one am finding it challenging.  I miss the laughter, the tears and prayer, the odd, meaningful or silly conversations that speckled our days.  Now instead of sitting outside drinking apple pop(sooo goood!) listening to my teens, I'm sitting here at my computer desk ridding my inbox of email and catching up on correspondence.

 There is blessing in the quiet, in the space to think and breathe.  But the blessing of quiet tends to be the obvious one.  I am sitting here missing the blessing of noise, of community, of wrapping our lives hard around one another.  We started slow, unsure, with some definite groups.  But we ended strong and loud, our walls broken down, wrapped in love.

 I don't know where we'll go from here, how those bonds will change outside of the pressure cooker of Mexico.  It will be different, I'm sure, now that we're no longer the crazy gringos.  So I'll cling to the good memories and embrace the quiet even as it feels so very very odd.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Blog Day

About a month ago, I learned that some bloggers are celebrating the leap day by leaping blogs. As one of my dear friends is participating, I asked her to share some of her beautiful words in my space today. I knew she would write something special, I didn't expect her to write lovely encouraging words about me. I am blessed, encouraged and humbled. Without further ado, here's Karo:

On February 25th I had the privilege of participating in a fundraising walk called

For those of you who don't know me, the homeless of K-W hold a special place in my heart, and so I was pleased to be able to fund-raise for such a personally meaningful cause. For the record, I have no idea how it worked out that way, but it really did turn out to be the coldest night of the year, with a brutal, biting wind that cut through our coats and chilled to the bone. I took the time to really feel the cold that night, to consider what it would feel like WITHOUT all my warm layers. To try to imagine what it would be like to have to try to sleep and stay warm in that weather, day in and day out. I was grateful for the cold that night, for the chill that lasted for hours after the walk had ended and I was inside a warm, safe place, because it served as a reminder to me of how very fortunate I am. When problems and concerns pile up, it is unfortunately very easy to become egocentric and focus only on ourselves, to forget about the bigger things, the more important things. Reminders like this are essential, in my opinion, for (attempting to live) living a balanced life.

Another thing I was grateful for that night was the gift of friendship. If you're here at (abundant) Life with kids then you likely already know what an amazing woman Grace is. So I'm not going to write this for you, but rather for Grace herself, because I think sometimes she forgets what a wonderful person she is, and how she inspires those around her.

First off, Grace, you are an excellent mother. You're raising three beautiful, bright, and empathetic children. They are inquisitive, gentle, caring, and intelligent, with just the right amount of quirky (must be from their father, right?)! I am constantly amazed at the empathy your children show toward others, and at the size of their hearts. You don't just parent; you guide their minds, hearts, and souls. And it shows. They are challenging (I know all too well the unique challenges that come from raising 'spirited' children, as I've got a son and a daughter of my own who are spirited children themselves), but- and I'm sorry to be corny- I truly feel that you live up to your name. I have yet to meet anyone who could meet the challenges (and joys!) you face on a daily basis with such grace, not to mention patience and humour. Lord knows parents of young children need a good sense of humour to make it through these formative years!

You are one of the kindest, most thoughtful friends I have. I know that you are always willing to lend your ear to listen to my worries, or your shoulder to lean on in difficult times, or even your tissues when I need a good cry. Having a friend like you to count on, someone who will be there unconditionally, non-judgmentally, is a rare gift, and it's one I treasure. Though we met many years ago, we didn't get to know each other well and become close until recently. I'm so glad that we did, though- I can't imagine not having you in my life. I suppose that watching someone push another human being out of their body -not once, but twice- tends to bring people closer, huh? Not much left to bare after that, is there? Plus, you have this knack for just showing up on my doorstep unannounced and creating these awesome surprise play dates, which I love:)

I had a wonderful time walking with you and Aris. See, here's proof:

I kinda wish that guy in the ridiculous getup hadn't come into an otherwise lovely picture, but what can ya do, right? Seriously, who doesn't just wear a hat? Some people.

Thank you for walking with me- not just on the coldest night of the year, but on this journey called life. Ian and I are honoured to call you our friend.

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Make a Bad Day Better

Because I have awesome friends, I have decided to share this epic Facebook thread with you.  I keep going back because it makes me really happy.  Because I'm changing names, I can't just do a screen shot. But here's the gist.

Veronica's status update:
 Steve, are we still on for the prenatal belly dancing at your house tonight? I know you said you were interested.

Keona: I must have missed an inside joke? Steve is pregnant? :p

Steve: Umm… That was when I was … elsewhere…, right?

Grace: Steve says you're a nut. :)

Steve: Keona, yes I do appear to be pregnant to some. However, it doesn't seem to have resulted in a baby yet. Perhaps I'm doing something wrong?

Veronica: Perhaps it's Grace that's doing something wrong. We'll brainstorm when we next get together and see if we can figure it out.

Veronica: No, you didn't miss anything Keona. I just decided to bug Steve :).

Keona: My husband might be interested in male prenatal belly dancing too. We'll see if we can get enough guys to teach a class. :)

Veronica: Okay, I'll check with my hubbie :).

Veronica: ‎Bianca, see if your husband is interested ;).

Veronica: My hubbie says to sign him up.

Steve: What, do all of us guys have beer bellies?

Veronica: So I'm putting you down as a 'yes' then Steve?

Steve: Umm, I believe I have an appointment with my hairdresser that day.

Veronica: Ask her if she know where you can get some good bellydancing gear.

Steve: troublemaker.

Lucy: I should get my husband to join. Although that man doesn't have much belly to work with.

Keona: No "beer belly" required! Just need to be male. Lucy's husband would love it! :)

Keona: No worries Steve, we have flexible class times.

Veronica: Yeah and don't worry about buying Steve. I'm sure Grace has something cute and jingly you could tie around your waist.

Steve: ‎Veronica, eww. Keona, It's a really long appointment. I'm quite sure it will conflict.

Mama Bear: Chicken!

Veronica: Steve this hairdresser of yours...they, uh - you DO know that you have no hair right? I mean I'm not judging or anything. Bald people should be able to go to the hairdresser if they choose to do so. I'm just saying yo might want to consider the possibility that you're being scammed.

Steve: Am Not Bald! Or Scammed. Now that I think about it, it wasn't the hairdresser keeping me busy at all. It was the society of hunters in hummers (very manly!) that's been trying to recruit me. Apparently they think I'd make a good poster man (not boy!) or something.

Veronica: Well, okay Steve. However I urge you to consider all of the men that are weeping inside because they would like to take belly dancing classes but are afraid that society would look down on them. Thisis your opportunity to take a stand and pave the way towards a more flexible waistline for men everywhere. *Holds out hand* Won't you join us, Steve? You know you want to ;).

Steve: Give me a list of names, and I'll get the Hunters in Hummers to give them a call. There is hope...

Veronica: Haha! LOL.

Bianca: was this a joke thing or did it really happen?

Veronica: It's mostly a joke that came from a small bit of reality. Mainly, I'm just teasing Steve, although I would be hugely entertained at the sight of a group of belly dancing husbands :).

Grace: I need to read this comment thread whenever I have a bad day. This cracks me up! :)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Five Minute Friday: Tender

 Every Friday, Lisa-Jo invites us to write for just five minutes, no editing.  Occasionally I remember in time to play along.


 I hurt today; my head, my stomach and a sore spot on my foot.  My aches leave me tender, vulnerable, open to stronger reactions than normal.  Because like a dog with a sore paw, when provoked I responded harsher than typical.  My children are also sick, all three of them home today.  They don't seem to understand how miserable their Mama feels, so they whine and bicker until I respond. Too harshly.

 But their little hearts are tender too.  And a mama's angry words, no matter why they come, can lodge deeply in a small soul and fester.  I feel torn, guilt-pain adding to physical misery.  Why can't my kids be kind to me? Why can't I respond better to them? Finishing my rant, I apologize, confessing my sin of anger to them, asking for their forgiveness.  They extend undeserved grace to me, offering hugs and kind words.

 And I am left tender, the good kind now, my heart moved by the compassion and grace extended to me, a sinner.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fear, Dignity and Coldest Night of the Year

 We had exited off the interstate to take the bridge to Canada when I saw two official looking cars blocking the road ahead. Instantly my body filled with fear.  I had no legitimate reason to be afraid, no illicit goods in my car and yet my heart started pounding.   Border Patrol Officers were searching vehicles leaving the States which seemed bizarre to me. I'd never seen this before although I've crossed the border well over a hundred times.  Perhaps they were searching for stolen property or someone being trafficked, but for whatever reason traffic was blocked and cars were being pulled over for questioning.  As we were driving a rental car, the officer doing the questioning waived us over to be searched.  As we waited, I became increasingly agitated. Finally they let us go, after searching through everything in the trunk, even our dirty underwear.

 It took me awhile to understand my agitation.  It wasn't just that I was frustrated over the delay because I wanted to see my kids, but I was also completely panicked.  As I sorted through my emotions, I realized it was because I no longer believe being innocent is enough.  I knew that although I wasn't carrying any contraband and am not a threat to the United States Government, if the security officer wanted to, he could have torn apart our car, physically searched us or even detained us.  And there wasn't anything we could do about it.

 It's been like that in my life these last couple of years.  Things happened that I couldn't do anything about.   My innocence didn't matter, only my supposed guilt.  This led to deeper wariness of authority than I already had. Through this I've learned empathy for the plight of refugees.  I've started to identify more with them, to understand what it is like to leave a home not by choice.  These past few years have also given me more compassion towards the homeless.  I know what it is like to be treated with suspicion and wariness by those around me,  and how it feels to live with the resulting fear of people.  It's a rough place.

 On February 25th, I'll be walking 5k with my daughter and some great people from my church.  We're raising money for Ray of Hope, a local organization that serves the homeless.  Before the walk last year, I had an interesting conversation with another walker.  She was in her late teens, having recently gotten off the streets. She had participated in a program that employs homeless teens, teaching them life skills, providing them with an income, and returning their dignity.  I want to be a part of that, to not just feed and clothe the homeless but to provide better choices for them.  There have been so many this past year who have reached out to me, restoring my dignity and sense of self.  I am so thankful and so I'd like to pass on the gift of dignity, of hope to the marginalized in my community.

 If you'd like to be sponsor Aris or me, give our names a little click.  And if you'd like to walk yourself, click here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cake Party

What do you do when you end up with too much cake?

 Yesterday my children returned home from AWANA with two fancy homemade cakes.  My husband wondered what on earth were we going to do with that much cake.  Thankfully we only have two children in the program, unlike our friends who lucked out with four cakes. One of them was a Candy Land cake complete with lollipops, candy canes and a Starburst walkway.   My husband was really glad we didn't get that cake. :)

 So while he was moaning about the surfeit of cake, I came up with a plan. Why not invite our neighbours over for a Cake Eating Party?  So we invited our friends and neighbours over for a last minute party.  It ended up being great.  Not too many people came, but just enough that our house wasn't empty.  The kids played really well, we had some great conversations and best of all, we have almost no cake left!  Oh, and my house is much cleaner.  Nothing incites cleaning quite like having company over.

 I think we need more cake. :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's Been Two Years...

 since I first opened this space and started writing.  Pretty crazy!

 I haven't been writing as much recently, mostly because I'm attempting to finish up my doula certification.   It's been a long time since I've had to write essays and I have to say I'm not enjoying the process.  I will be ever so glad when I'm finally finished and certified! :) Perhaps I will throw myself a party. :)

  I started writing this blog as a way to force myself to find joy.   Life felt rather dark then, and although I knew there were glimmers, they quickly swam away from me.  Writing was a way to remember, to find those shards of light and capture them.   I find joy much more easily these days, although it's still darker than I would like.  My husband keeps telling me that healing is coming when I get too frustrated.

 As we were away over the holidays and only returned yesterday, I did the groceries after getting the kids from school.  Kian decided that he didn't like that particular grocery store and decided to vent his frustration by screaming.  I should mention that Kian has a particularly high-pitched and piercing scream.  But he wasn't content with this.  No, he needed to hit anyone who came near him.  It was not a pleasant scene.

 I was thinking about the days when smacking a misbehaving child was common place and fighting down my urges to do just that when I remembered I had my phone.  I quickly sent Steve a text, asking him to pray.  I guess he knew it was urgent since there was no punctuation and I actually used numerals instead of words.  After dropping my phone back in my pocket, I headed to the dairy aisle to grab milk before leaving.  At this point, one of my arms was wrapped around Kian to keep him from hitting his brother, while the other one tried to steer the cart.  I'm really not sure what the other shoppers thought.  I'm sure it wasn't all pleasant.  But then in the dairy aisle, peace came.

 Over the weekend, Kian had visited his aunt and uncle, where he was given yogurt drinks.  Money is tight so we don't buy yogurt drinks typically.  These are Kian's new favourite and he had asked me to buy him some earlier.  Lo and behold, I found some on sale.  Kian stopped misbehaving when he saw them.  After getting him to apologize, I extracted a promise that he would behave if we bought them.  Not content with that, I informed him that if he misbehaved at all, the yogurt drink would be returned.  We outlined inappropriate behaviour and went on. Immediately his behaviour changed.   By the time we reached the cashier, he was in a much better mood.  Things were going so well that the cashier actually praised my parenting.  Laughing, I informed him that my now-adorable looking little boy was the same one who had been screaming earlier. The teenager had a hard time believing that such an innocent looking child make that much noise.  Personally, I think God made him extra-cute so he would survive to adulthood. :)

 Anyhoo, it's late, I should go to bed.  Happy blogaversy to me! :)