Monday, 31 December 2012

"If I want fish..."

"If I want fish, I can get fish."

For the past couple of months, I've been mulling over this great idea from Jeffrey R. Holland.  He spoke about the time after Jesus had died.  He imagined the apostles all looking at each other feeling slightly lost.  The man who had led them, walked with them, taught them, been the very purpose of their daily lives for the past three years, was suddenly gone.  The 10 remaining men stood around, probably slightly bewildered, and asked "what now?"  Peter, always the impetuous, always the passionate, must have felt this low as hard as he felt the highs of the previous years.  He may have shrugged his shoulders and said something to the effect of:

“Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. We have talked with, prayed with, and labored with the very Son of God Himself. We have walked with Him and wept with Him, and on the night of that horrible ending, no one wept more bitterly than I. But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’” 

Three years after being asked to leave their fishing boats, Peter and six others returned to their former life.  After a night of catching nothing, the early morning hours bringing only empty nets and a feeling of failure, a voice called out to lower their nets on the other side of the boat.  The result was, in a manner similar to three years earlier, a catch too great for their nets to hold.  Immediately Peter recognized his Saviour, Jesus, standing on the shore, and once again Peter tossed himself overboard into the salty sea waves, too excited to wait for the boat to return.

Jesus, perhaps with a kind smile for his impetuous student and friend, probably helped Peter from the water, brushed sand from his sopping clothing, and led him to the fire to warm his soaking body.  He looked at Peter and inquired three times if Peter loved him, loved the message he had brought, loved the ministry more than fishing and boats and the sea.  At Peter's insistence that he did, Jesus might have said something like:

“Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”

How many times in my life do I feel this gentle rebuke coming in answer to my prayers?  How many times have I had the glow of testimony lit inside, only to let it flicker down to a lonely little flame, or maybe even just a dying ember?  How many times has my path been revealed to me by an omniscient God in heaven, only for me to stray into pointless selfish pursuits?  How many times have I followed my own inspiration instead of divine guidance?  Even at times when I have good intentions, when my plans are ones that seem to point down Godly paths, when I think I'm "fishing for fish that God wants," I seem to forget that "if God wants fish, he can get fish."  What he needs is me, my soul, my heart, my head, my passion.  What he needs is my will aligned with His will.  What he needs is for me to humbly inquire what it is He needs me to do here and now, and then do that.  Even if it isn't where I think my strength is.

My strength is working with teens.  But right now I've been asked to serve in Primary, which the children 18 months to 12 years.  It was a hard calling to accept, but I am loving it, and learning so much.  I have realized that there are many people who could be asked to do what I am doing.  Many people who could bring a love to these children, and teach them the gospel.  They can be affected and changed by many different people.  I am not serving here to change them; I am serving here to change me.  I am coming to know that because God is omnipotent, he doesn't need me to do anything.  Anything I am asked to do is for my own growth.  If God wants fish, he can get fish.  What he needs is a disciple in me, and He needs me forever.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

New Year

New year, new ideas.  Here are a couple of things I want to work on throughout the year:

1.  Cleaning schedule.  I have yet to figure this out with four kids.  I found an interesting schedule online that just might work and make sure I know the last time the kitchen floor was scrubbed or the bathroom tiles washed down.  Why I think this actually might work?  I find that during the day I'm doing all that "morning" and "night" stuff, and never get to the chores listed under the weekly column.  Specifically, The idea of taking out the trash at night, because that is something that never gets done until the garbage bag is breaking and the recycling is overflowing under the sink.

2.  "Great to be Eight."  At the end of this year, Colin will be getting baptized (something generally done at the age of 8 in our church.)  But we want it to be a meaningful commitment, not just a rite of passage.  So once a month for this year we are going to devote a Family Home Evening lesson to the meaning of baptism and the development of gospel understanding and testimony.

3.  Playdates.  I've been out of the loop socially for over a year now.  Before my last pregnancy, we used to have playdates at least once a week, if not more often.  Now that Benjamin isn't napping, we aren't even restricted to just mornings.  While I get together often with one friend at a time, I liked the small gatherings of three or four.  Plus, I find the kids do better when there are at least four children instead of just two.

4.  Garage organization.  Ugh.  This is a big project I tackle once every year or two.  But in the past it's generally just been a shifting around of what is there and one good van load of things to take to the dump.  What I really want is a bunch of uniformed storage bins, all neatly labelled and easy to access.  Plus somewhere to hang the bikes and my kayak.  We have a nice long garage that we can't really get cars into (due to the workbench built before we bought the house) so there is no reason we couldn't have things tidy and organized in there.

5.  Life Skills and chores.  I talk about this one all the time, and yet we have yet to properly institute anything.  But with Colin staring down at age eight, we really need to get on this wagon.  I want James and I to take Colin to dinner, just the three of us, and talk about the goals we are setting for him, and some he wants to set for himself.  I'm hoping that if Colin is in on the process of choosing what he wants to learn and thinking of someone who can teach it to him, then he'll be excited to start.  I'm thinking I might make a little booklet sort of like Boy Scouts or Girl Guides so he can track his progress.

6.  Writing.  I'm not sure yet what.  I have a couple of book ideas that I've started, and an idea for some musical composition also.  Also in this area would be improvement on the flute and learning the violin. A focus on the arts and personal projects.

Saturday, 29 December 2012


Benjamin climbed up on the piano bench.  I was already sitting on the floor in the piano's shadow.

"What would you like me to play?" he asked.  "A girl song, or a pee-pee song?"

I chuckled inside.  How true it is, I've noticed lately, that boys are preoccupied with bodily functions.  Benjamin is in the stage right now where saying "pee pee" or "poopy" is side-splittingly hilarious.  Yes, the world does seem divided into world of girls and the world of pee pee (boys.)

"A girl song," I answered.  He turned in all seriousness to the piano and began to sing as he played, mimicking how my own fingers brush the keys when I sit to play.  His clear three year old voice rang out above the notes.

"This is a girl song....this is a girl song.  This is a girl song, a girl song, a girl song."

He paused.

"That was beautiful," I encouraged.

"That's only half the song," he countered, then continued.  "This is a girl song, this is a girl song..."

A waited until the end and applauded.  I quelled the desire to ask next for a pee pee song, firstly because I didn't want to chase the lovely moment of music away, and secondly because, frankly, I was afraid of what a "pee pee" song might sound entail.

Les Miserables

Well, since it's the movie event of the year, I took myself out to see the screen adaptation of the musical.  (Yes, I went by myself.  I was channelling my film student days.  All film students are used to seeing movies on their own.  It's not just a social event, it's an experience of art.  For all the chatters that were at tonight's screening, I was really wishing for a small section for those of us who came alone and just wanted to experience the movie.)

But this is not meant to be a review of the film.  What I was contemplating throughout the movie was the journey of the protagonist, Jean Valjean.  I think, of all the adaptations I've seen, this film was most successful at presenting the journey of a soul, from lost to grace.  Victor Hugo is a masterful author, and I might even say that this film presents this specific idea in a much clearer way.  (The book is a large tome of commentary on the social, political, and cultural setting of the day.  While the ideas are interesting, I think the theme of one man's spiritual journey is much more relative to us today.)

What my mind wandered to in watching this film, was thinking about a time and place when belief in God was such the norm that one's spiritual journey was much less about determining the existence of God as it was about trying to live the Christian life.  I'm curious to know if, assuming the existence of God, a follower would be more committed if they had never questioned that God might not exist and spent their life trying to follow Him, or if a follower is better off to spend years (many years, for some) battling within to determine if they believe in God at all, and then come out stronger on the other end for having to fight such a fight within oneself.

For many people throughout the ages, God simply was.  Spirituality was simpler.  But is simpler better?  (Better being defined by the final outcome, being dedicated to a faith in God.)  Is it necessary to wrestle  with the idea of God's existence?  Does the plethora of information available at the click of a mouse or touch of a keypad actually improve us, or confuse us?  I imagine one could spend one's entire life reading and learning about all the different faiths, beliefs, and religions out there.  Is it a good idea to stop at one when you haven't explored them all, given that it is impossible to explore them all in the short lifespan we have been given?  It might be said that the time before the "enlightenment" were times of darkness, times of blind obedience, times when they just didn't know any better.  Finding myself concrete in my own faith, I yearn for a parallel existence where I didn't waste 32 years wrestling, rebelling, sinking in a mire of conflicting information.  There is something pleasing about the idea of being raised in a time and place where all those around me take the existence of God as fact.

I know this idea will rustle the feathers of modern thought.  I know it sounds naive, that I've drunk of the "opium of the masses," that I sound uneducated to wish away the infinite access to knowledge.  I'm not pinning myself into one corner of thought here.  I simply put the idea forward for consideration, to spur thought, to record the ramblings in my mind.  Of course there is no parallel existence, and I cannot change the fact that we live in a time when everyone is shouting their own beliefs from the rooftops and all can hear much, much more than they were raised on.  I'm not saying that this is a bad thing.  But thoughts can change habits, which lead to behaviours, which develop character.  And even such a "useless" thought as this is settling into a corner in my mind, creaking back and forth on an old rocking chair, and becoming part of the furniture of who I am.  And while I may identify myself by a certain faith, religion, or set of beliefs, I don't think anyone can truly find themselves defined exactly and solely by a large group, for we are our own person and bring our own set of experiences to the table.  My wrestle with God, or rather my growth toward God, is completely different and unique to the next persons.  While we all are marching onward, upward, toward the same destination, there are an infinite number of paths circling around that central point, but all leading up to the same apex of the same mountain.

Friday, 28 December 2012

2013 - More

A new year is right around the corner, and this year I'm taking a page out of a blog I read to help focus my "resolutions" for the year.  Shawni Poithier likes to choose a word for the year, something that represents the direction she wants her life to take personally, and a way she'd like to improve herself.  Last year she chose "simplicity," which is a really good one, and one I considered for myself this year.  But while listening to our Christmas service at church, one speaker said something in his talk and immediately this word, and an accompanying scripture and song popped into my head.


In Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge shifts from a self-centered character to a more selfless one.  His eyes are opened to life around him, he sees more opportunities to bless and help others, he gives more of himself.

These words to Kenneth Cope's song "More" sum up beautifully what I have in mind:

More steady, more sure,
More trusted, more pure
More trained, and more aware
More aim to get me there

I climb this far
You raise the bar
You want my heart

More fierce desire to stand agains the wind
More blazing fire when dark is closing in
more love inspired change within
So there's more and more of me to give

More words to learn and know
More etched upon my soul
More tried, more true,
Less me and much more You

I stretch this tall
You sound the call
You want my all

More strength in shoulders to face the war with sin
More wise and bolder to save the souls of men
A more faithful soldier to the end
You want more and more of me to give

Embedded within these lyrics are the scripture that will be my motto for the year:

"He must increase, but I must decrease."
- John 3:30

This idea of more I hope will permeate as I try to step up, raise the bar, stand a little higher.  I've been mulling over the idea lately of self-improvement, or trying to purposefully move myself toward something instead of just floating along in the status quo.  There is a prevalent idea in the world that the world owes us happiness.  In this me-centered universe, anything and anyone around me should make me happy; if it doesn't, I should cut it out.  Instead, I want to take responsibility for my life, increase my understanding of how I can improve the lives of others and improve my own life.  I want to become less of a consumer and more of a producer.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Family, friends and food

These seem to be the themes of Christmas this year.  (And also Lego.)

I have three things to host: a dinner with friends (last night), Christmas Eve brunch and our own Christmas dinner.  Plus there was holiday baking with my sister, and our new tradition of Christmas on New Years with my sisters and their families.

Lots of new recipes this year, which makes me recall just how much I love to cook and bake.  A turkey dinner is almost boring now, which is what my uncle (a fabulous chef) used to always complain about. Every year we asked for turkey and roast potatoes/carrots, dinner rolls and gravy.  As someone who always wanted to open his own restaurant, my uncle couldn't believe no one would go for his offers of something more elegant.  We're creatures of habit, I suppose.

Christmas baking was a success.  Well, five out of six recipes.  Turns out "chill dough for 30 minutes" really does mean half an hour, not three.  So much fun to do with my sister instead of on my own.  Definitely a new Christmas tradition.

Last night we had friends over for homemade pizza, then the kids watched "The Polar Express" while the adults played games.  (Last night was Euchre - guys against gals - and of course the ladies one :)  It was so nice to have adult time without the kids interrupting every second thought!  With our family complete, we are moving into the next phase of life, and it's exciting to have time to connect with friends.

Tomorrow will be the first brunch I've hosted.  I've got two overnight casseroles (one sweet french toast, one savoury ham and cheese), plus fruit and maybe some apple chimichangas.  Brunch is open to both mine and James' family, so we'll see who makes it up.

This is a year of new ideas, new events, trying things out, seeing what might stick as yearly traditions.  I'm a low key holiday person.  I like small gatherings of friends or family, without much pressure, and lots of time for everyone to enjoy the food and the company.  Anything that causes undue stress gets stricken from the list.  I want to enjoy each event as much as everyone else, so I don't want to be rushing around behind the scenes preparing and micro-managing instead of sitting back with everyone.

Also on the list for this year: Christmas Eve at Kaycee Gardens, a local park that is lit up in beautiful lights and displays.  Christmas day at home, playing games, building lego, and watching movies.  My first real turkey dinner at this house (my old oven couldn't cook a turkey for some reason, but I'm hoping my new one will do it beautifully).  Christmas on New Years Day with my sisters and their families.  I'm hoping that in a couple of years this will turn into a three day affair, where we rent a cabin and retreat into the beautiful Ontario winter to celebrate Christmas and New Years, a time for the cousins to play together and the adults to laugh and lounge late into the night instead of rushing off for bedtimes.  We also have a mini vacation planned down to Rochester to the museum of play and staying in the Hilton (yes, James and I are becoming a little bit of hotel snobs!  But we really love the luxury of a nice hotel, so we save that little bit extra to stay in something really nice while we're away.)  Plus as the kids get older they will want to spend some time with their friends, so I'm going to try and fit in a couple of play dates for them as well.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


Oh cleanser of the mess I've made
Upon the hill our places trade
Stretched on a cross Your body crushed
By human hands You formed from dust

Oh cleanser of the mess I've made
Your boundless love for me portrayed
With patience for my learning curve
By holding back what I deserve

Oh cleanser of the mess I've made
With everything at Your feet laid
I watch as all my cares erode
And from my soul these words explode

How wonderful Your mercy is
How awesome are Your ways
I come, I come
To worship You
For all You've done

The last few days I have read much about mess.  I've been listening to Mercy River's rendition of "For All You've Done" and the line "Oh cleanser of the mess I've made" has stuck to me night and day.  I've been reading a few blogs (ones I regularly visit and some I have just happened upon) that talk about the beauty of messy lives.

My life is messy.

That's not to say that my life is a mess.  That insinuates that I don't have some degree of direction, which is untrue.  I am (slowly, very slowly) moving forward, reaching new heights, achieving goals, evolving, changing, becoming.  But day to day life with three boys and a baby is messy.

There are simply too many chores for all of them to ever be caught up at the same time.  Ditto for the laundry.  Until a few weeks ago, I only ever hand-scrubbed the kitchen floor twice a year.  Then, because I know James really appreciates it, I started doing it once a week.  Unfortunately, by the third day it looked as dirty and felt as sticky as when I'd been leaving it for months.  What's the point?

No organizing technique has managed to tame the piles of papers.  I'm pretty sure the toys multiply while I sleep.  Even the huge Lego table can't contain the wayward travelling pieces of plastic.

My blog is bare of photos.  So many blogs I read have wonderful photos accompanying the thoughts.  But three young boys never sit still long enough to create a lovely little shot, let alone me grabbing the camera and snapping something before someone is off again.

And yet there have been some beautiful moments.  And that, from what people have been writing about, is the beauty of the mess.  A Sunday afternoon when James was gone and the boys and I playing  board games.  Curling up together reading Robert Munsch.  Oh, and I can't forget tonight's Family Home Evening activity...papier machee craft to make an angel for our Christmas tree.  Oh yeah - there was flour and water everywhere.  And speaking of the tree, half the ornaments are on the floor and the other half are all crowded onto one section of the tree (cat and two year old.)  And the beads are either falling off or choking the tree.

My goal is still to be the eye of the storm - the calm in the middle of the mess.  I think I'm doing a lot better than before.  I seem to have an immeasurable amount of patience that is most definitely God-given.  It doesn't drive me crazy that I say something six times in a row before I'm heard; I like it much better than yelling and losing my temper.  And I think the boys are responding better to it.  I think they realize how ridiculous it sounds when I say the same thing over and over again (I do it like a skipping record.)

"Oh cleanser of the mess I've made." I am human, ergo I am messy.  And I'm okay with that.

Sunday, 16 December 2012


As a writer and musician, I often find myself speaking similes and metaphors.  It's not as common here in the western world, but in eastern writings and life it's much more prevalent.  At any rate, I think there is something beautiful about describing the world around us in more than strictly scientific facts.

About six months ago, however, I paused after a conversation with Benjamin to consider this practice.  I had been conversing with a two year old about sunrise and sunset, and I spoke about "the sun getting tired and going to bed" and "the moon coming out to play with the shadows."  Now, these two metaphors are not at all odd in our culture, widely understood and even widely used.  But I wondered for a moment if it might be confusing to a two year old, if he might be imagining in his mind how on earth the sun actually gets into a bed, and if the sun is indeed a big ball of burning gas, how the bedsheets don't catch fire?  I asked myself if I maybe shouldn't avoid speaking metaphors with one so young, so as not to confuse him about the physical workings of the world around him.

Alas, my musings led to no change in my speech, as I'm not sure I would even be able to catch myself for all the times I use metaphors in my descriptions.  Also, I decided that if my two year old had a little poetry in his life, well, there is more to this world than the cold, bare facts.  I'm a firm believer in teaching through example, and if I want my children to have a little lyrical lilt in their conversations, well then I must model it to them.

It seems that rather than confuse the young one, he has readily embraced the idea of metaphors.  (I liken it to having a second language as a child - experts say that instead of being confusing, it actually increases a child's understanding because they have twice as many words to draw from when expressing themselves.  Likewise, when trying to communicate an idea, if a child understands and can use metaphors then they are much more easily and accurately able to describe what they want to express.)

A couple weeks ago I fell victim to a nasty 12 hour flu.  My stomach was churning, which caused me to shuffle around the house semi-hunched over.  On seeing me clutch my stomach, Benjamin inquired, with much worry, what was wrong.  "I'm sick, sweetheart," I moaned.  "My stomach doesn't feel well at all."

Benjamin paused, then asked "Is there a fly, or a bee, or a spider inside?"  "What do you mean?"  "When I'm sick I feel like there's something in my tummy.  Do you have a fly, a bee or a spider?"  "A spider," I replied.  "It feels like a spider is crawling all over in there."

Over the rest of the day, Benjamin continuously inquired whether or not that spider was still inside, or if it had disappeared yet.  I could have explained more scientifically what was happening inside, but there will be a day for that.  For now, in Benjamin's little world, the description of a spider was perfectly accurate.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


With two filmmakers for parents, I guess it is inevitable that our kids like movies.  But none of the boys gets into a film as much as Colin.  When act three begins in a movie and you can start to feel things coming to their conclusion, Colin slowly gets into a crouch on the sofa, trying hard not to break the rules and stand on the couch, but unable to contain his excitement.  As the excitement in the story builds, he starts to bounce, a huge grin breaks across his face, an uncontrollable giggle emits from deep inside.  When the hero finally triumphs, he can't help himself - he jumps up to a stand on the couch, pumps his fist in the air, and yells in excitement.  It's so fun to watch.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The heavy burden of your trial

Our trials are designed for us to grow and blossom into what our final product in this life is intended to look like.  I truly believe this, but I will admit that it is spiritual hope that allows me to.

I was reading a heart-wrenching and yet beautiful story in the newspaper over the last three days.  It was about a young two year old girl, a big bundle of energy and joy, who was diagnosed with a form of cancer that has a mortality rate of 100%, usually within 3-6 months of the very first, tiniest symptom (hers was a small tremor in her hand.)  As I read the courageous tale, really from her parents' point of view since she was too young to understand it all, I couldn't keep the feeling at bay that I could never, ever, handle such a trial.  I will admit I am paralyzed by the notion of losing my husband or one of my children.  I know in my mind that fear is the opposite of faith, but I am not at that point in my life journey to be there yet.

Perhaps that is not my trial to endure.  I was conversing with a friend on the topic, and she noted that she was so grateful she hadn't had a big trial to endure yet in her life.  I paused, and then countered her. Because our trials are tailor-made to us, somehow we come out on the other side, through the grace of God, stronger.  Somehow the trial, though perhaps of great magnitude to others looking in, isn't undefeatable mountain to us.  I mentioned about my own trial this past year - nine months of such illness that I could barely get out of bed, pain when I ate or moved or even breathed, nine months absent from raising my children, nine months of daily IV injections.  It was long and dark.  And yet somehow, now, it seems to very far away.  In fact, it doesn't feel like it was that hard after all.  At the time, of course, I felt like it would never end, never improve.  But even this short passage of time, six months, has erased most of the darkness and left only the joyful feeling of conquering.

Then I turned the conversation on to my friend; she lost her father in a tragic accident when she was 12.  That would be unimaginable for many people.  Lots of teens might spiral out of control after such an event.  But with God's love and grace she has grown into an amazing woman and married a good man who is a dedicated father to their children.  She paused for a moment and said she had never considered how big that trial might seem to others.

And so it seems evident from these thoughts that while the idea of some trials might seem impossible, we know that our own messy life will be not just manageable, but conquerable.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The influence of fathers

Listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast today got my mind stirring.  They noted that 40% of kids in America are born into homes without a father (a stunning 72% of African Americans.)  That just floored me.  Gratefully I was raised in a home with a wonderful father, and my children are being raised in a home with one also.  So while that statistic was alarming, it wasn't personally relevant.

What did hit closer to home was the statement that boys today are being raised by women.  They are in the home with their mothers for the most part, and Sunday school teachers and school teachers are generally women also.  And boys being raised by women will naturally be different than boys raised by men.

This got me thinking back to a favourite book "Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology."  It explored a Mennonite-like community.  In that community, just like it was for thousands of years up until the last century or so, boys spent the majority of their time with their fathers, grandfathers, or other male role models.  After just a few early years at their mothers' knees, they were transferred over to their father to help in the physical chores and family business.

Nowadays, boys are home with their mothers for most of the first four or five years.  Then they spend 5 days a week with by and large female teachers.  As they grow older, they spend spare time with peers, and even though those friends are often male, they certainly wouldn't be role models with life experience to inspire and shape others.

Culture today has created a world where half the families don't have fathers living with the children, and the other half are required to work long hours, often more than 5 days a week. The short time our fathers can scrape out to spend with children is often dominated by passive media or manufactured bursts of play.

These thoughts have made me vow to try and find ways my boys can spend time with their Dad when he can teach them, lead them, and model what it is to be a man these days.  I don't want society stepping in to shape my boys, as the pervasive media is trying to do to so many.  We have the great benefit of owning our own company, which means that down the road the boys will have the blessing of being offered work.  You will find no wistful coddling from this mother; moving furniture is hard labour, and working with seniors requires compassion.  I hope all three of my boys will be able to learn a strong work ethic and a sense of service from this "fall-in-you-lap job opportunity.  But more than that, I hope they can work along-side their father and see these qualities in him (they are two of the top reasons I love this man.)

While quantity time might not be possible right now, we can make sure that time is quality.  That will include some play time, but it must include leading time.  The guest on the radio program insisted that one hour at the kitchen table around dinner time is immensely profitable.  It can include eating, homework, and instruction.  It should be an hour that the father uses right down to the very last minute, exerting his righteous influence over his family, children, and most especially his sons.  He can lead them with definite purpose, with a plan in mind and very specific and thought-out road to walk.

It is so easy to fall into parenting just to get through the days; it is infinitely important to parent with purpose.  We must make sure our boys have time to spend with their dads so that our fathers are the primary (and proper) role model for their sons.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

To write

So many days seem to go by now between opportunities to catch up on the blog.  Lots happens at home, and lots happens in my mind.  I now have at least four or five places (blogs, friends, etc) where I get my mind stirring.  To each of them I could write an essay in response to each post, and yet I feel like I couldn't accurately express how I feel on each subject.  The other day I penned a submission for the website I occasionally write for; I felt I had a really important piece to say, but had to settle for a mind purge onto paper and to click "submit" without any revisions or second draft (luckily they have a team of editors who will catch any basic errors.)  I love to write, and it's often how I process things, but lately things have just been so busy...

I finally found an online site where I can compile all my blog posts and print them in a book, for a reasonable price.  Perhaps if I don't have the umph to write right now, at least I can gather things into one place for posterity.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The 1st of December

Every day I walk in the unchartered territory of raising boys.  I struggle between memories of my own childhood, which was only girls, and the reality of boys.  I have all these ideas of traditions I want to do with my own family, but so often they are rooted in the world of girls and just never seem to work for us now.

I bought a beautiful hand crafted advent garland:

My idea was to fill it with a little treat, and a message or story or scripture for every day to open.  I had these wonderful ideas of intimate family moments remembering the real reason we like to celebrate this season - the birth of Jesus.  But my family of boys (and men!) much prefer their Star Wars Lego advent calendar.  And all of a sudden it's December 2nd and I still haven't had a chance to fill up the pockets, my ideal having been deflated by those around me.

Then I read about the December advent traditions of another family in town - a song and scripture and story and craft each day, and a service opportunity as well.  As I read, I felt a twinge in my heart knowing that that is exactly what I had in mind.  But then I had to remind myself - she has a family of 5 daughters.  Girls.  And as much as we try in today's society to claim that there are no differences between girls and boys, it simply isn't true.  (At least in my experience.)

And so I suppose I must adapt my ideas.  My boys don't love crafts, and they don't have stars in their eyes when I try and gather them to sit still for a spiritual thought.  But that doesn't mean I have to throw this teaching moment out the window.  I just have to change it a little.  Make it more energetic, more hands on, more get-in-the-mud-and-get-dirty.  I see shovelling snow instead of baking cookies, and carolling instead of letter writing.

As a mother of boys I am being stretched every day.  But I've always been up for a challenge!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

O Canada

I was listening to CBC radio this morning, our national broadcast channel.  They were announcing the upcoming contest known as "Canada Reads" where famous Canadians defend a Canadian novel to be voted as the best of the year.  I love this event every year, because it introduces me to some new books and lets me hear some great insight into their stories and themes.

As I listened to the program, my heart swelled with Canadian pride.  Somewhere in our expansive country a lone radio announcer was sitting in a small booth and inviting Canadians everywhere to listen and participate.  I felt united to fellow citizens from the east coast to the west coast, and clear up to the northern seas.  Images flashed before me of listeners young and old, in their car or in their kitchens, in families or in a comfy chair alone, all listening to the same words streaming over the airwaves.  And I wondered if this same kind of quiet pride and unity exists in many other countries.  Patriotism means different things to different people, but I also think that it is expressed differently in different countries.  When I think of the United States, for example, I think of hands over hearts and raised flags and a very loud exuberant pride.  When I think of France, I think of a much more exclusive love of country.  Canadian pride, in my mind, burns strong and silent.

I wonder if other countries have something like a "Canada Reads" program on the CBC, a national station that unites people and places so far apart geographically and culturally.  Truly a wonder to behold.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Christmas decorations

We decorate for Christmas as early as we can without seeming too crazy.  To be sure, I don't have much of a decorating eye, so you don't really walk into my home and think "festive", other than seeing the Christmas tree in the living room and a few garlands here and there.  But one thing that's easy and inexpensive that we do every year is hang paper snowflakes from the ceiling.  (Check out this picture when we did it for Colin's birthday party a few years ago.)  When it's snowing inside, you can't help but feel the season!

Monday, 26 November 2012

"I'm so glad when Daddy comes home"

This is one of my favourite songs from when I was a kid.  It talks all about the joy of Daddy coming in the door from work, climbing up on his knee, giving him a big hug.  I think when Mom is staying home with the kids and they get to see me most of the day, it's something extra special to greet Daddy coming home.

But this thought was put into my mind the other day: is Daddy just as happy to come home?

Of course he loves his family, that goes without saying, but is home a welcoming place that he is racing home to?  Or is he just dreading going from one dreary place (work) to another (home?)  Or, even worse, would he rather linger at work because of the atmosphere that awaits him when he goes home?

A friend wrote about how when she was little there was always a tidy up that happened just before Dad walked in the door, so that his welcome home would be a pleasant one.  Now, this friend does the same thing with her kids for her own husband.  She tries to have a pleasant smell (like dinner almost ready) and a peaceful calm in the air (if the kids can cooperate) and greets the man returning from the trenches of work in a way that makes home a haven and a rest from the weary world.

As I pondered on these ideas, I was first struck by how "fifties" or old fashioned it seemed.  Is this image of ushering the man into the home and into a comfortable chair, letting him put up his feet, and taking care of everything else so he can relax simply a rusty chain left over from an era of women's oppression?  Because every stay at home mother knows that it is not easy to run a home filled with babies and little children, and that the emotional, physical and mental demands on a mother are at least equal to, if not greater than, someone working outside the home.  Should we be pushing the 50/50 workshare?  A mother has been on her feet all day, and I'm sure she would love to sit down and put her feet up when her husband walks in, instead of working to please one more person.

But it's true in so many cases that even if you know you have a responsibility to fulfill (fatherhood) and that you should roll up your shirtsleeves and dig into the work, that doesn't make it any less tiring or undesirable to talk into a home where the kids are crying or fighting and a baby is being dumped into your arms and dinner isn't even started, which means someone's got to get to it, and soon.  Many husbands and fathers wouldn't dream of walking out on these tough years when the kids are small, but I bet many would admit to days when they just wish they could walk through the door and not have an infinite number of demands facing them right away.  A wife and mother making the home pleasant to walk into helps him want to come home, rather than feel it as another obligation.

I thought, perhaps, there might be a little more to it.  The word 'love' popped into my mind, and the selflessness that is necessary to feed a successful marriage.  Bustling around tidying up, cooking a favourite meal, winding the kids down - these are things I can do because I love my husband, because I want him to be happy, because I want to give him all that he needs, because I want the home I am making to be a place he loves.  No, I wouldn't do these things as a re-creation of an archaic idea of the woman having to stay at home and wait on her husband hand and foot.  I would do these things to show my deep love for someone who works hard all day.

A mother's work is never done.  There are precious few moments in the day and night when a mother is not at work, or at least on call.  And I firmly believe husbands/fathers should help at home with the children and the housework.  I don't think any man whose wife is staying home should expect to work his 8 hour job and then do nothing once he comes home.  But just as my efforts to ease his homecoming are an outpouring of my love for him, so too should his desire to help ease my workload at home.

A little effort goes a long way in this case.  Just like a stone tossed into a pond makes only a tiny splash but causes a far-reaching ripple effect, my one effort of creating a positive homecoming will likely garner help with the children while I serve dinner, a joint effort in cleaning the dishes, a peaceable agreement in handling bedtime, and often even the offer to sit down and put my own feet up while he tackles one last chore I couldn't get to.  Then my gratitude might result in giving a back rub once we sit down together to chat in the late evening.

So you see how something so easily perceived by today's modern society as a male chauvinist trap is actually pure evidence of mutual love and respect for your partner in love, marriage and family.  Sometimes it's hard to uncover something so beautiful when we are trained to assume any such action is a gender stereotype that must be abhorred without contemplation.  Instead, I will gladly embrace such an idea with what I consider to be a more mature concept of love than the instant gratification and selfish type so prevalent in our society today.

Friday, 23 November 2012


(In trying to toilet train, Benjamin gets one chocolate chip, that we call candy, for every time he pees in the toilet, and two for every time he...does more.)

Benjamin: I'm hungry.
Mom: Your dinner is still on the table.  Go eat that.
Benjamin: Can I have a candy?
Mom: No, but you can eat your dinner.
Benjamin: I have to go poo.

(He goes to the toilet, works really hard, and manages two little successes)

Benjamin: I went poo on the potty!  So...two candies!!!!
Mom: Yes, I suppose you do.

(Lots of rejoicing among family members, since this is the first time he's ever pooped on the toilet.  We all settle back in to reading.)

Benjamin: I have to poop again!

(He goes to the toilet and then jumps back up.  Sure enough, he has managed a little more.  He gets his reward.  I'm starting to think he's going to just let it out bit by bit until he fills himself up with chocolate!  We go back to reading.)

Benjamin: I'm going to try and go poop again.  Actually, there are lots of little poops.  It's going to be disgusting...

(Too smart, that boy.)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A measure of calm

The noise and chaos in our home has reached astronomical levels.

And something must be done about it.

I didn't have any brothers growing up, so sometimes it's hard for me to determine what is appropriate for boys and what needs to be curbed.  I laughed out loud the other day when I heard a radio talk show host admit that, as a man who raised only girls, he never understood why other parents could not control their unruly boys.  Now his daughters have sons, and his grandsons are a rambunctious lot, and now he understands.  I can totally relate.

Nevertheless, things are a little out of control.  The wrestling games often end with someone losing an eye (or you'd think so, from the screams they beget.)  The volume on their voices is permanently at 11.  The arguing goes in circles.

And so, for Family Home Evening this week, I took the reins again.  We talked about contention, the kinds of behaviour that breed contention, and the atmosphere it emits.  Then we talked about peace and its associated behaviours and atmospheres.  The boys were surprisingly adept at identifying the differences.  Then I stated that we were going to start instituting 20 minutes of "calm time" a day.  This will involved all family members who are home at the time (which is my way of making sure I do 20 minutes of calm also, instead of prepping dinner or folding laundry.)  We came up with five activities so far: yoga, silent reading, listening to mommy read, listening to classical music, or lying down and speaking "I am thankful for..." statements.  I'm going to make a fun spinning wheel to help us choose each day.  Participation is mandatory.

I'm really hoping this will help settle an atmosphere of peace on our home a little more.  Right now I call 4pm - 5pm the "witching hour" because everyone seems to go really nutty at that time.  My goal for this hour is:

1) to have the dinner already prepped and ready to start cooking
2) to have the main floor tidied
3) to let the boys have their 20 minutes of TV they get per day while I...
4) get a sweet + healthy snack (ie: homemade cookies and apple slices) ready
5) eat the snack at the table while we talk about their day
6) have our 20 minutes of calm time

My hope is that this routine will take up almost that full hour, leaving us more rested and peaceful while I make dinner and the boys play.

(Of course, the very next day I fell really ill with a stomach bug, and am still recovering today, so this probably won't start until next week.  I'll update on how it goes then.)

4) to have our 20 minutes of calm time

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Music lessons (in all forms)

A mother of 5 children on a blog I love to read often writes about how she desperately wants her kids to be readers, but found she rarely ever sat down to read herself.  She chastised herself, saying that how on earth could she expect her kids to randomly immerse themselves in a book if they never saw anyone model it for them.  Consequently, she is trying (trying, being the operative word) to read more, and read in front of the kids, so that they it might rub off on them.

As a piano teacher, many people ask me what age is right to start music lessons for their children.  Really, I field this question all the time, along with "when will you start to teach your kids piano?"  The answers to these questions are all tied up in my love of music.

The answer to the first question is that it depends on the child.  Generally, for formal-sit down-30 minute piano lessons, I advise about eight years old.  It's best if the child can already read, has a basic understanding of math, has more than basic fine motor skills, and can sit for at least half an hour with a mostly undivided attention span.  I have taken younger children, but more often than not it's a battle with the child and a waste of money for the parent.

The answer to the second question about my own children is that I will teach them an instrument when they ask or show interest.

That is not to say that there is not music constantly in our home, or that they aren't learning music in other ways.  While I do not advocate formal lessons until the kids are older and only if they are interested, I firmly believe in early exposure to music of all kinds.  The reason I can say that I want my kids to show an interest in music, is that I'm fairly certain that they will ask.  Because I am trying to model playing music for them.  I sit at the piano and play and sing, I bring out the guitar, I practice the flute and violin.  I hone my skills on instruments I have played for a long time, and work away on ones I'm just learning.  I have my instruments in the play room, on display, and ready to play and ask about.  I allow the kids free play at the piano, and to hold and try out any of the band instruments when I have them out.  I have a toy guitar (missing two strings!) they can use.  I have a drum that sits in the corner.  while they may not be sitting down and getting a lesson, they are certainly learning a lot just by being around music.

If I had one suggestion for any parent wanting to start their kids in music lessons one day, it would be to play an instrument now.  If you don't play one already, learn one.  Let you kids hear you playing the piano or strumming on the guitar.  If you don't have an instrument yet, I'd suggest getting a guitar.  I love the guitar because you can play almost any simple song (kids songs, folk songs, and spiritual songs) by learning 4 chords.  The guitar is easy to get out and take with you, or have the kids pull up around you while you play and sing.  I will play for 30 minutes or more, and the kids will come and go as I play.  Sometimes they'll sit with me, sometimes they'll grab the kids guitar and play with me, sometimes they'll sing or dance, sometimes they'll just keep building Lego.  But they are still taking it all in and soaking up that music into their souls.  Then one day when you suggest music lessons it won't be foreign to them at all.  They might even relish the idea to play a duet with mom!

After being asked by the kids' teachers at school, I'm thinking of getting a group of moms together who want to learn guitar and helping them with the very basics.  I'm by no means an expert, but I know what I need to in order to play for the kids, which is perfect for me.  Plus there is nothing I love more than sitting around and playing/singing music, which I don't get to do with friends very often!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Words for teenagers (and their parents)

I saw the following post this morning:

"Words for teenagers"

Northland College principal John Taplane has offered the following words from a judge who regularly deals with youth.  "Always we hear the cry from teenagers 'what can we do, where can we go?'

"My answer is this: Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons and after you've finished, read a book.  Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun.

"The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something.  You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again.  In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone not a wishbone.  Start behaving like a responsible person.  You are important and you are needed.  It's too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday.  Someday is now and that somebody is you!"

This fits right in with my thoughts lately on the "adult-escent" stage of life that has emerged in the past decade or so.  This term was coined by an author who defined this stage as the 20-something adults still living in their parents' basement playing "Call of Duty" video games (or an equivalent stupid pastime.)  It fits right in with the increasing self-centred universe we are creating for our youth and young adults, where "I" am the only one who matters and "my" happiness is the supreme goal of life.  It fits in with the epidemic of laziness that has settled over our society.  It fits in with the concerns we have had in the past about raising kids in a small town and the dangerous pastimes, or "wastetimes" (my term) they get into.

It also is relevant to our constant need as parents to fill every waking minute of our children's time with activities.  Part of my regularly scheduled days is time for the kids to play on their own or with each other, to come up with their own games, tell their own stories, find ways to entertain themselves.  I only sign the kids up for one extra-cirricular activity at a time, and I try hard to make it the same thing for everyone and all on the same night.  (That doesn't always work, but I try.)

I yearn for the days, or the type of town, where free play among children is spontaneous (think "Little Rascals.") Yes, I really do want my children to be little rascals, to head out on adventures, to find a little trouble, to weigh the decision of whether climbing something will be totally awesome or just might kill them.  I want them to make friends and fight with friends and make peace with friends.  I want their Wednesday night baseball game to be the result of kids riding their bikes down the street with their gloves over their shoulders and my boys run out to join them, instead of an organized team with adult supervision (coaches) and a set 45 minutes to be allowed to play.  (No, this is not idealic of a time gone by - a good friend actually witnessed this when she spent time with family over the summer in a small town out in Western Canada.)

I think these types of adventures and situations helped create children who were free-thinking and autonomous, and who didn't rely on someone else to give them something to do.  For all that our backyard is large compared to current town standards, I hate that I have to fence in my kids and restrict their wanderings.  (Okay, I would still have to fence in Benjamin at this age, because he really might get himself hurt!)  I constantly think about ways to help my children reclaim these things so that they will never be standing before a judge hearing words of like written above.  More than anything, I want my kids to know what hard work is, to believe that they can do hard things, and that there are things they can do that will make a real difference in the world.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A lightbulb moment

I have been dabbling in photography lately, taking family portraits of some close friends and family.  I am absolutely loving it, most especially without the pressure of it being a "job."  Further to my previous writings about trading instead of using money, this system is working out really well.

At any rate, Sunday afternoon I was off for 2 1/2 hours taking photos for my sister and my sister-in-law.  James was at home with all four kids.  He does this once a week when I go to band practice, but that's at night and the kids are usually only moments from going to sleep when I leave.  This was an afternoon, with all four of them going at full tilt.

When I walked back in the door, I was greeted by the following promise from James:

"I am going to help you around the house more.  It is impossible to get anything done when the kids are around."

YES!  I guess it was one of those lightbulb moments for him, when he realized that staying home all day doesn't mean I can spend all my time cleaning and organizing and doing dishes and laundry.  For some reason, I'm still not able to get things going smoothly yet.  I'm always lagging behind.  Laundry is the number one culprit, but the kitchen floor hasn't been scrubbed in a long time, and while the toilet and sink get a good cleaning at least once a week (out of necessity, with three young boys), while standing in the shower this morning I couldn't remember the last time it was done.  I figure it gets soaped up a couple times a week during bathtime, and a good rinse every morning with our showers, so that must count, right?  Right?

James is usually pretty good already at helping out, especially if he's home alone.  Almost every time the kids and I are away for a few days (that happens once or twice a year) he inevitably has steam cleaned the carpets or emptied out the fridge and washed it down, or some other major chore that never,  ever, ever makes it to the top of my to do list.  This was a nice moment, though, because I've really been feeling the difficulty of taking care of the house with four young children.

Luckily, the living room and kitchen are tidied most days, and the boys are now in charge of their bedroom, which should help.  The nursery is a disaster while I'm painting and redecorating, and our poor paster bedroom quickly becomes a dumping ground.  But I've got lots of storage solutions and I'm slowing tackling things one at a time.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tidbits on me

I've picked up the violin again.  Love that sound.  More than I can say.  If I ever get somewhat proficient on it, it may become my favourite instrument.  I've also been listening a lot to Jenny Oaks Baker, an amazing violinist.

One big reason I picked up Jenny Oaks Baker is because my kids really love to listen to classical music.  I by "really love" I mean that they don't complain and ask me to turn it off or change it to something different.  I put on a classical radio station in the car to keep the mood calm and to calm Juliette.  I always like to tell them what instrument is being featured so they can start to distinguish the different sounds.  The other day I mentioned "this is a violin" and Caleb declared "Mom, I know that!"  Good, it's working!

I'm finally getting around to painting Juliette's nursery.  It takes me forever to pick paint colours.  I also want to finally do the downstairs again (after 5 years), but I still haven't settled on exactly which brown I want.  I think I need to hire a decorator.  I can build a fence, but I can't pick paint.

The boys have been nutso lately.  I think I falter in parenting now and then because I'm unsure of what is normal for boys.  I get that they are going to be more rambunctious than girls, but I'm not happy with the level of "accidental" hurting that seems to be happening.  I try to emphasize that if they choose to engage in rambunctious play that they are in effect signing a waiver absolving me of any responsibility should they get hurt.  Unfortunately, that doesn't ease the headache-inducing level of crying that results from such activity.

We are back into chapter books - Pippi Longstocking.  A favourite from my childhood, and the first book of a book club a friend of Colin's is having.  He thought it was so grown-up to be invited to a book club.  I participate in one every month and he's excited that he gets to participate in something like me.

This month's book club book was fantastic.  My favourite so far.  It was called Secret Daughter, and it's about India.  So fascinating.  (I apologize to my brother-in-law whom I grilled about his own family's journey from India to Canada.)

Christmas is gearing up.  Choirs to lead, music to select, programs to write, Nativity floats to star in (yes, we are Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus this year!)

I was able to get into the kid's classrooms last week.  Colin's class had been learning about music and his teacher played the trumpet for them.  So I offered to bring in my selection of instruments and play for them.  Clarinet, flute, violin, guitar.  Plus I brought my conducting baton and had them all play their very own instrument - their voice.  They thought that was really neat.  I stopped into Caleb's class during snacktime and played for them also.  I have such a passion about exposing kids to music.  I got two requests from teachers at the school for a couple of basic guitar chord lessons, which I'm hoping to set up for them soon.  Plus some other students and teachers wanted me to come back in to their classes.  Once Juliette is in school, I really think I'm going to pursue bringing music to local schools.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Parenting with purpose

In the past I've taken for granted the idea of parenting with purpose.  My parents were really great at this, and some programs our church uses also help parents in focusing their efforts at home.  A website I read (and occasionally write for) called the Power of Moms just published a book called Deliberate Motherhood, in which I wrote an excerpt.  (So incredibly cool to see my name in print!)  So often I think we as parents resort to just day to day survival when raising our children.  We see to their basic needs, make sure they are fed and clothed, stop any fights, prevent them from losing an eye or breaking a leg.  All this is important and necessary, but we mothers have so much more possibility.  We mothers are raising tomorrow's generations.  We are raising sons and daughters to become leaders.  We are raising children who may make a difference.

In many aspects of life, we plan.  We meal plan and write grocery lists.  We set career goals and short term steps to get there.  We lay out education roads and the stops along the way.  We host parties that stem from long to-do lists.  Actually, there is very little we do in life that doesn't first require a plan.  But for some reason, raising our children rarely includes such forethought.  We go by the seat of our pants and hope that by the time we leave we've done some good, taught them a few things, and that they'll keep their heads above water in the big ocean out there.

Right now, I think I'm halfway to parenting with purpose.  Once a week, on Monday nights, we have a time set aside for Family Home Evening.  During this short half hour, we all sit down together and learn something that James or I feel we as a family (or someone as an individual, without being singled out) needs to learn.  We include songs and games and activities (and always dessert!) and try to teach things like honesty, peace in the home, prayer, genealogy, tidiness.  We might write letters or cards, or play a game together or go for bike ride.  The nice thing about making it Monday nights is that we know every week we are going to at least have one moment to purposefully teach our kids.  (Also, we know how long it's been since we've purposefully taught them, if we seem to be missing Family Home Evening!)

Other than this weekly event, most of my parenting is reactionary.  For instance, yesterday when the boys' rudeness and physical fighting reached epic proportions, I called a family time out.  We all sat together on the couch quietly while I read two books: Panda is Polite and Lamb is Joyful.  We discussed what it is to be polite, how we had been rude, and what we could do to rectify our attitude.  Then we spoke about anger and joy, how both are valid emotions, and appropriate ways to let our tempers cool down without hitting, kicking, biting, yelling, etc.

Currently, I have two parenting goals I want to institute:

My first goal is to get ahead on some real character development for the kids.  I have a great book called Teaching Your Children Values by Linda and Richard Eyre, that outlines 12 important character values for children to develop.  These are things that some kids might pick up one or two if we do nothing, but they are 12 traits that can be taught to your children with some forethought.

Secondly, I want to do some more tailored teaching to each child.  Each one of the boys is so different, each has his strengths and his weaknesses.  I want to celebrate each child's strengths more openly, so they will feel a sense of pride in the good they are doing.  I also want to teach one-on-one some of the things I see they need to work on.  (Like controlling a temper, noticing needs of others, sharing the spotlight, listening to instructions, etc.)  I found a link to this handout on character qualities that give 49 different traits and definitions.  It's a great list with many ideas I would never have thought of on my own.  It's from this sheet that I'm going to start my one-on-one instruction.

Goals are good, even if they are hard to remember amidst the every day chaos.  But my main motherhood goal right now is a little more peace and lot more reining in of that chaos.  And nothing is every really accomplished without some direction and hard work.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Seek the Good

A few friends and I gathered at my house last Friday to watch a live broadcast of Time Out For Women.  This is a women's conference that travels around the United States, and now and then ventures throughout the world also.  The speakers give inspiring messages to women struggling with all types of challenges.  And let's face it - we all have challenges, no matter how together things are right at the moment.

Sheri Dew, one of my favourite speakers, gave a fantastic address about women in church.  Many churches, including mine, face criticism when it comes to women's roles.  Sheri talked about an interview she did for a European article, and how she faced the question of "feeling oppressed in a patriarchal church."  Her response was quick, witty, poignant and overflowing with truth.  Her answers came at firing speed and in the end the interviewer had to cede.

But I digress.  This year's conference theme was "Seek the Good."  There are times when the smallest of thoughts grab hold in your mind and need no further explanation from outside sources to bloom into the fullest blossomed tree.  That's what "seek the good" did for me.  We live in a time that is often characterized by negativity.  Natural disasters and calamities, the degenerate generation of youth, morals going to "hell in a handbasket."  The culture of fear we have created smothers growth and makes us want to turn inward, building a protective shell around our innocent and delicate families.

Seek the good.  So much in so few words.  First, the "good."  With the idea of seeking the good comes the reminder that there is indeed much good out there.  Media plays such a huge role in hyping up the bad things that happen around the world.  Is there really more crime, more poverty, more problems, more disasters than ever before, or are we just hearing about them more and more often?  200 years ago, you didn't hear about a murder in a town on the other side of the country.  Nobody watched the glut of images being replayed over and over again of a hurricane or flood.  But that's beside the point.  All the bad things aside, there is still a lot of good things and a lot of good people out there.

The second thought is "seek."  The phrase "seek the good" allows for the idea that sometimes in our lives, the good doesn't fall in our laps, but must be sought out.  Seeking is not sitting in one spot and waiting for something good to happen to me.  I am not a creature that simply exists to be acted upon, but I have the ability to act for myself.  I need to get up out of my own little corner and do a little work. Finding the good will happen at first just by lifting up my head, opening my eyes, and looking around me.  But more than that, when I start to seek around corners, in hidden pockets, and under the veil of trials, tears, and sorrows, I will find even more good.

Seek the Good.  I think I'm going to create an art piece to hang in my home as a reminder that every day I want to seek the good around me.  Life is a lot better when I do.


And because that Time Out for Women slogan was so good, I went back and sought out the slogans they have used in the past, just to inspire a little more goodness today.

"Seek the Good"
"Choose to Become"
"Infinite Hope"
"Sweet Assurance"
"Joyful Life"

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Remembering your lineage

"You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!"

- Boyd K Packer

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Just as we were ready for bed, Benjamin asked if he could go downstairs and find his soother.  Off he went while I got the rest of the kids ready.  5 minutes later he came up, sans soother. but wearing a chocolatey toothy grin.  I cocked my head, he answered: I had a chocolate.  (From today's trick or treating downtown)  Actually, I had two chocolates, he admitted.  But I don't need anymore in my tummy today.

I smiled, realizing that in order to get the candy he would have had to have been distracted from finding his soother (a big deal for him), seen the candy, moved a large kitchen chair to the counter, dug in the bucket, and removed the candy wrapper before enjoying the prize.  That's a lot for a two year old. 

(It was another 10 minutes before he realized he was still without a soother.  This time James went to find it)


15 minutes later it was time for evening prayers.  Each person in the family takes turns saying one thing they are grateful for, and one thing they would like to ask for.  The person who prays tries to remember to include all the items.  It was Benjamin's turn to pray, and for the very first time, he actually tried to apply the principle.  While he couldn't remember all the specifics, he folded his little arms and shut his eyes and fervently prayed for something for each person.  (I quickly cut off the boys when they started to protest it hadn't actually been what their prayer requests had been, and we had a quick lesson in personal prayers.)  His concern and thoughtfulness for each family member was nice to see, evidence that he is starting to emerge from the self-centered world of a 2 year old.


Then, as Caleb climbed into bed (or rather, threw himself into the bed) he banged his head hard off of the wood slats at the head of his bed.  He immediately started to cry, or rather, wail, as Caleb does.  I pulled him into my arms to comfort him, and Benjamin climbed over the rail of his bed.  James and I both quickly jumped on Benjamin, telling him to get back in bed.  That adorable little face turned to us, filled with great concern, and stuttered out that he was only going to move Caleb's pillow further down the bed so Caleb wouldn't hit his head again.  James and I shared a smile as we watched him take the time to place the pillow just so.

I love to see moments of compassion like this is my children.  I think compassion is one of the greatest character traits one can cultivate.


Caleb's pillow

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Hymn: Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

The title for my blog entry on work came from a popular hymn we sing at church.  The lyrics are specifically about the work of spread the good news of the gospel, but I think can be equally applied to the ideas I expressed about all kinds of work.

I noticed that the musical direction for how to sing this hymn is noted as "energetically."  I love that term and think it's perfect for both the hymn and as an attitude toward work in general.  I think my next entry in this series will be about the word and idea of "energy."

At any rate, here are the lyrics to the hymn "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel" as food for though on work today.


1. The world has need of willing men
Who wear the worker’s seal.
Come, help the good work move along;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.
Put your shoulder to the wheel; push along,
Do your duty with a heart full of song,
We all have work; let no one shirk.
Put your shoulder to the wheel.
2. The Church has need of helping hands,
And hearts that know and feel.
The work to do is here for you;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.
3. Then don’t stand idly looking on;
The fight with sin is real.
It will be long but must go on;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.
4. Then work and watch and fight and pray
With all your might and zeal.
Push ev’ry worthy work along;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

Text and music: Will L. Thompson, 1847–1909

Friday, 19 October 2012

Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

(I haven't posted in a week, because my brain was still going really fast.  But even James noted to me yesterday that I haven't checked in here so I thought I'd try and articulate what I've been distilling in my mind, even in it's raw forms)

Work.  That "dirty" four letter word.  In today's society, efficiency is practically defined by doing the least amount of work possible in order to get a job done.

I'm not sure that is good for us.  In fact, I'm starting to see that it's actually quite bad.

Work used to mean going out into the fields to farm for survival.  If you didn't work your fields and your gardens, you probably didn't eat.  If you didn't work to build your home, you didn't have a roof over your head.  If you didn't work at the talents you were good at, you didn't have the ability to trade for the things you really needed.

Work used to mean physical labour.  It meant picking up a hoe and swinging it into the rocky ground.  It meant scrubbing clothing up and down a washing board.  It meant digging in the garden to harvest.

In today's Western society, with technological advances, we keep eliminating the need for physical work.  A "cushy desk job" is the common goal.  We sit at desks, then sit in cars to go home, and then run to the gym where we pedal on a stationary bike for an hour, or run in one place on a treadmill, to get exercise.  It seems to me that our "efficient" society is anything but.

The absence of physical work is taking it's toll on us.  Physical demands in our jobs are being replaced by mental demands, with a devastating effect.  Stress is building and actually manifesting itself in a physical manner.  Our bodies are rising up in revolt.  After a good, long day of hard work, are bodies are designed to shut down in sleep, to give rest and repair the body.  Stress work is having the opposite effect.  A lack of physical labour is preventing our bodies from functioning properly.

Hard work used to be inherent.  You didn't have to fit in a walk to get exercise; you had to walk if you wanted to get anywhere outside your house.  You didn't have to worry about working your different muscle groups; the activities of daily life worked them all for you.

Our attitude toward work today is creating a culture of stupid laziness.  I use the adjective stupid because laziness isn't just about the absence of hard work, it's the ignorance of its negative effects on us.
Our children mope around complaining about tidying the toy room, using precious "play time" and requiring too much effort.  This behaviour then follows them into adolescence, where they think they are "owed" time to spend on mindlessly in front of screens.

We don't see the "opportunity" for work around us.  Much like our children who resist cleaning their toys, we see work as something lying in our path to self-indulgent pleasure.

I don't exempt myself from these attitudes, but I am starting to recognize them in myself, and am beginning to abhor it.  I am trying an experiment now.  I want to rise in the morning and fill my day with work.  I want to eliminate the idle moments.  That's not to say that a well deserved rest is bad, but I think that rest will be more welcomed, more sweet, and more renewing to my mind and body if it follows good, hard work.  I want to eliminate much of my time spent in unfocused activity, the times I just sort of aimlessly wander about.  I want to be actively engaged in working throughout the day.  I want to be moving as much as I can.  That work could include playing with my children or reading something meaningful, because not all work needs to be getting up a good sweat.  But I do want to be more conscious of including physical labour in my days.  I want to reach the end of the day and have had a good (positive and hard working) physical, mental and spiritual workout.  After that, I hope that at a decent hour I will lie my body down in bed and sink into rest and renewal, ready for a new day in the morning.

This experiment is in it's early stages and is really hard.  But my new motto is "I do hard things."  Not just "I can do hard things" because I already know I have the ability; I need the mental motivation to get myself in gear and to kick the habit of idleness that's crept up on me.

It's going to be a big change, but it will be one that is positive.


Juliette is 4 months this week.  It is true - somewhere someone is turning time faster and faster, because this has just flown by.  She is such a joy to have here in our family.

Wednesday morning she rolled over for the first time.  Very much like the boys, there was no trying beforehand.  She just rolled onto her side and then continued right over onto her tummy, where she was actually quite content to stay.

All the boys are still 100% in love with her.  We haven't run into any jealousy with any of them.  If you've ever heard about the Roots of Empathy program, seeing the boys with Juliette is a good example of the theories behind that program.  When she whimpers, they immediately run to her and coo in soft, reassuring voices or sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to try and calm her down.

Benjamin always calls her "my sister."  "My sister is crying."  "My sister is awake."  "That's my sister."  It's adorable.

She smiles all the time.  Even when she's crying, as soon as she sees a face come toward her she breaks out in her big, open mounted smile, through her tears.

Every month I'm doing a little mini photoshoot with her, and getting some beautiful shots.  While I might not have as many candid photos of her as I do of Colin, I certainly have some great quality ones. She makes a great photo subject.  Often Benjamin will jump in there with her, or act as my assistant in bringing out her beautiful smile.

Friday, 12 October 2012

My brain is going too fast

Every now and then a day comes along where I am exposed to so many cool, thought-provoking ideas that my brain is going a mile a minute.  Today was just such a day.  From internet blogs to radio programs to book excerpts to conversations with friends, I can't even begin to write down everything that has been swirling in my mind.  I apologize to my friend with whom I spent the morning and had to listen to the speeding train of ideas trying to pour out of my mouth.  I can't even guarantee it was all coherent.  I think my brain was using the forum to try and spew it all out so that I could put it back together in some identifiable form.

So instead of an essay on each idea, here are just some of them, for the record.

The moral ethics of work.  The importance of working hard, not just to selfishly provide for oneself, but in order to benefit morally, socially, culturally and physically from hard work.  The decay of today's society linked to our desire to avoid work.  Life 100 years ago where you worked hard all day and slept like a baby at night because of the physical toil and lack of mental stress related to farm life.  The desire to get all the work done so that we can fill our time with mindless entertainment.  The desire to do as little work as possible, to avoid it, to shirk it, to give the minimum effort required.

Huge houses.  A family of 12 living in a house the size of our main floor, with only a sleeping loft upstairs.  No extra room was needed because other than eating and sleeping, no time was spent indoors in idle pastimes.  The word "pastime" in that it denotes an activity simply designed to "pass the time" without accomplishing anything of note.  The cozy nature of a home filled with loving and useful items rather than crammed with too many things of little use or necessity or beauty.

Living in the country, or living in a community.  Realizing that the actual house structure is of less importance than I think.  Weighing the ability to roam on rolling acres with the importance of community and neighbours.  Wondering why I love the town we are in.  Wondering if I could ever move out to a place like the one my friend is in.  Seeing the importance and benefits of a small hamlet, even smaller than a village and certainly miniscule compared to my town.

Hating the idea of the middle man.  Working for money to then spend the money elsewhere.  Wondering how I can work more directly for my needs.  Loving the idea of trading skills with others for that which we do need or want.  Hoping to not feel the need to share of my talents or possessions in order to gain money, but simply to impart freely that with which I have been blessed.

Organic community activities.  The natural gathering of children at a water hole to swim at on hot summer days.  A gathering that isn't the result of a Facebook invite or carefully scheduled calendars, but instead the result of stepping out of our homes and being involved.  Wishing TV had never been invented.  Wondering how I can inspire more love of being outdoors in my boys.

Imagining a little cabin which could be a studio where we could write or play music.  James and I working on our own writing oeuvres instead of grinding hard at a job which is not in line with our ideas of how to spend the precious days we have been given.

How church structure can inhibit spirituality.  My grandparents in the far north having church in their living room.  Defining my own relationship with God.  Defining that relationship without the vocabulary given me by others and instead using the vocabulary given me by the spirit.  My own role in a church community so that I benefit from gathering rather than being hindered.

Using food as medicine.  Eating for health rather than just to fill my belly or fill a desire for junk food.  Being intentional about feeding my family.  Learning what foods can help and what foods can heal.

Being the calm centre (or eye) of the storm around me.  Talking peaceably.  Using a quiet voice.  Modelling serenity.  Finding quiet moments for myself.  Teaching my children the joy and importance of quiet moments for themselves.  Being a help to those around me instead of a burden.


I'm not sure if that eased the speed of my thoughts or spurred them on.  Either way, I love all these seeds planted inside me, and I'm excited to watch and nurture their growth.