happy end

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A great man died this week at the age of 83.

A few months ago he came home from a doctor’s appointment and said, “They’ve given me a death sentence. I’m so happy!”

This man considered it a great blessing to be forewarned of his life’s end, to be given time to prepare. To him a lung cancer diagnosis was bliss. “I’ve never prayed so well,” he said.

And he went on to finish his days as he had lived before. Simply, and with great faith. Working tirelessly for the people he served.

I was always impressed by the way he saw people in a crowd. People were never just a crowd to him. They were individual souls with their own story and life and pain. And he made himself available to hear those stories, enter those lives, feel that pain.

He will be so greatly missed, and we also rejoice for him; I am sure he is very happy in the house of his Lord.

I hope when my turn comes I will have lived a life that makes me able to face my death with a smile, as he has done.

across the pond

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One year ago today we left Britain and emigrated to Canada.

I’ve been a bit nostalgic today, turning over memories from this past twelve month. Anxiety, excitement, panic, pressure, gratitude; such a whirlwin.

This year has seen us change continent, live with in-laws, find employment, buy a house, loose a baby, cry, laugh and everything in between. Joy has sat, crawled, walked and jumped for the first time. Bella has met new cousins, missed others who are far away, and is still coming to grips with the fact that we are here now, and can’t easily visit the people and places she left behind.

I tried to find our advent wreath today. I was certain it was downstairs in the Christmas box but couldn’t find it. So many things have been shuffled around that I don’t know for certain that it came over with us at all. I keep thinking of things like this – are they here somewhere unopened? Was a box forgotten by the shipping company (we never counted)? Or did we leave them behind?

Things are replaceable. This whole adventure has taught us much about what is necessary and the excess we can more happily live without. It is a bit unsettling though.

I look forward to the coming year and all it will bring. As our family settles and becomes more at home here I am certain the reasons for our move will become more apparent. I wonder at my little family and how much it has changed in a few short years. What adventures will we get up to in this next one?

innocence

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A few days after we’d had some cousins to stay, Bella announced one morning: “S_ says we don’t have to live with our dad.”

Bella’s closest cousin started school this year. Suddenly the world has changed.

I have no idea what we were in the middle of at that moment, but it was dropped.

I took a breath, picked up my little girl, sat her on my lap, and we had a long talk.

I spoke about when J and I argue sometimes, and how we always talk about what hurts us, say sorry, forgive each other and begin again. I am so grateful that we never go to bed angry so that I was able to tell her that. Her parents start every day together and are committed to doing so.

And I explained what happens when people don’t forgive each other, and that they might stay angry and unhappy, and after a long time of being angry they may forget that they love each other. And that is why some families don’t live all together. Some children from families that aren’t all together are in her cousin’s class at school.

My poor Bella. She cried for those children and their parents. We prayed for them and she found some comfort in entrusting them to her Jesus.

Another sister took her children to a wedding last month. Their aunt was re-marrying. After they got home her nine year old came to her very confused. Their cousin already had a mom and dad, his mom already had a husband, how could she have another one? My sister considers their family very fortunate to have gone so long without encountering divorce. She was also happy that the issue came up at a time when she and her husband are getting along particularly well. We looked after their two youngest this weekend while they went to a marriage seminar. “Because we value our marriage,” they told their children.

I love marriage. I wish every woman could marry a man who values his marriage like J does. I wish every couple understood that marriage is designed to grind the sharp edges off of us, to move us out of selfishness, to bring us to wholeness and to holiness. It’s a tall order, a lot of work, a great joy, and worth every difficult moment.

I hope that my children will have a good picture of what a marriage can be by the example that we are battling so hard to give them. I pray that they will rest secure every night, knowing that their parents love each other, love them, and are committed to the good, health and happiness of our family.

sewing

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There is a reason my mother always did her sewing at night, after we were all in bed. I always knew she enjoyed those quiet, uninterrupted hours, but it used to baffle me a bit when she complained that there wasn’t enough light – why not do the sensible thing and sew in the daylight??

I finally brought out my sewing machine this week. That is, I brought out the one my grandmother gave me when she moved, replacing the one I left behind in England.

Bella has decided the only thing worth wearing to bed is a nightgown. She has exactly one nightgown, which she calls a night dress at bedtime and a morning dress when she wakes up so that she can keep wearing it until I eventually deem some activity as requiring day clothes and she goes to change (probably into a fascinating combination of colours).

So after weeks of promises, I brought out some flannel, found some thread, scissors, a pattern, set up the machine and set about making her a night dress. And then I thought perhaps I could squeeze two dresses out of the fabric and make one for Joy while I was at it.

We made quite a scene around the table. Bella was very helpful pinning things together. I only found three pins on the floor when all was done, which wasn’t bad considering how many she’d used to outline a dress for her toy cat out of scraps. Joy’s new favorite activity is cutting things with scissors. And after two weeks of ‘scissors are for paper only’ and a snip in the front of her shirt, I lost my mind and handed her some scraps to cut up. Light began to dawn as she reached for one of the pieces I’d just cut and we had a round of ‘Joy’s, Mummy’s, no.’ Which seemed to do the trick.

The high point of the morning was probably when I managed to get two pairs of sleeves out of the remaining fabric and felt rather chuffed with myself, only to realize two minutes later that although I’d cut sleeves for two dresses, I had missed the second halves of the dresses themselves. Two sleeves for half a dress each. Poor Bella, I had to cut hers down to complete one dress for Joy, and her sleeves are still waiting for replacement flannel.

The low point of the day occurred somewhere between the ironing board and the last hem. I was walking quickly across the room to pick something up and Bella was laying on the floor draped in purple fabric pretending to be a mermaid. Just as I stepped over her she made a sudden move and I stepped down square onto her ankle. She screamed, I screamed, I tried not to fall on top of her as I lost my balance trying to remove my weight from her leg. I cringed at the thought of the unforgiving tile floor under her and was sure I’d broken something.

I scooped her up amid a stricken Joy, in tears at the sudden noise and confusion. Propped her up on the couch, examined her ankle and ran upstairs for frozen peas, praying there was no lasting damage. Thankfully after half an hour of languishing in front of a movie she got up and walked without any difficulty. There isn’t even a bruise.

To cut a long, tedious story short, this is what I learned that day:

  1. Sewing involves scissors, pins, blades, needles, irons and other dangerous things which children are drawn to touch.
  2. You will spend more time fending off little helping hands from pushing the reverse button on the sewing machine than it will take to do the actual sewing.
  3. Having a separate table for the children to ‘sew’ on would be helpful for distinguishing the fabric in use and the scraps they may cut at will.
  4. Everything takes longer when little people are involved. Much longer.
  5. Involving said little people is a marvelous thing, and lets them show Daddy what they helped to make at the end of the day.
  6. Those quiet hours at night, when the daylight has faded and all the little helpers are dreaming peacefully are precious for both completing projects, and Mum’s sanity.

Joy wore her new nightgown to bed that night and I sighed when she woke up with cold feet. At 18 months old, she does not keep her covers on and at this time of the year should only be put to bed in warm pajamas with feet.

Poor Bella. But we’ve since visited my mom and came home with a piece of yellow flannel. Maybe we’ll try again tomorrow.

lessons

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I laid down on the couch for a few minutes this afternoon, leaving Joy in the bathroom brushing her teeth (one of her favourite activities). I knew I should get up and check when all was quiet, but my headache was pulling towards staying put. A few minutes later I walked into the bathroom to turn off the light and found purple crayon all over the counter.

We had it pretty easy with Bella, she used a pencil on a wall once and came to show me nearly in tears.

Joy tried to wash it off with the cloth I handed her, and said, ‘Oh no!’ several times when it wouldn’t come off. She was then remanded to her bed while I scrubbed – thank goodness for baby wipes, they clean most everything.

I hope that will be an end of displaced artwork.

It made me think though – when Bella was this age she was more closely supervised. Joy enjoys her independence, but I should not be surprised when she acts like an 18 month old when I’m not there to say no. We’ll see how well today’s lesson sticks.

sleeping on the couch

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Poor Joy had a rough night. Runny nose, congestion, sore tummy… no one got very much sleep. J surrendered the bed and headed for the couch so at least one of us would be able to function this morning. When he got up he informed me that our couch is the most horrible, uncomfortable thing in existence to sleep on, and we’re keeping it. He said, “if we’re ever having an argument and one of us decides we’re sleeping on the couch it would much more comfortable to come back and sort things out.”

A couch that’s good for our marriage. There you have it.

I hope we never have to use it. Before we married we promised never to go to bed angry. We were determined to go to sleep at peace every night. And although there have have been a few late nights of working through things, we’ve managed thus far to keep that intact. For which I am so very thankful.

I am the one more likely to withdraw, to give in to frustration, to ignore a struggle and put it out of mind instead of getting to the bottom of it. J keeps me accountable, and because we’re both determined not to walk away, our marriage thrives.

I hope I’ll never forget our first big blow-up of married life. It was about something really petty and I, true to my stubborn nature, dug my heels in and would not consider giving in. I stormed out of our flat and walked until I found a bench to sit and stew on. I remember thinking ‘enough! I don’t want to do this anymore.’ And suddenly it was all so clear. It was as if a voice spoke truth so unmistakably straight into my mind and heart, and cooled my anger:

He’s your husband.’

That was all it took. Everything had changed. We were married now, permanently. A wave rushed over me and I wanted to run home, into his arms, and beg his forgiveness.

No matter what caused the issue or who was in the right to begin with, we had both argued, both allowed ourselves to be overcome by hurt and lashed out at each other. I had fought him where I could have been gracious, and wounded him where I might have gently helped him to be a better man.

I did run home, and found him on his way to find me in a similar condition.

I am so thankful that we don’t leave things to fester overnight. It has meant that we’ve had to learn to fight fair, to stop and pray, to look at our own behaviour and own it, to put our spouse first, and look after them and recognize that hurt arising from miscommunication is still hurt. I love marriage. It is the best character training ground I could ask for.

visiting

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We visited my grandparents today. Long overdue. I spent every summer with them on the farm as a kid, and today I’m sure they looked at my blonde, bouncy Bella and remembered the little girl who used to come and stay with them at every opportunity.

They’re well into their eighties now.

Somehow their home is always a bit of a time warp. The same flowers, same amazing home-made bread, a jigsaw puzzle on the dining table, good food, a visit and over all too soon. I hope my girls have time to get to know them well.

When we first talked about moving back I thought a lot about my grandparents. I didn’t want to come too late to have time with them. I really want them to know my husband and our children. And now that we’ve been here ten months we have seen them four times and been to see them in their home exactly once.

But there is time. We’re settling more, branching out a bit, and now that our (possibly) craziest summer ever is winding to a close, I’m ready to start visiting.

I’m realizing that I can’t keep waiting for a free weekend, because they don’t exist. Today we skipped three other places we wanted to be because family is important. So I’ll have to go during the week without J, which isn’t ideal, but makes it possible to get there. Often. Like once a month at least.

I want to look through all the old photographs now that I’m old enough to want to remember who everyone is. Grandma needs to teach me her bread recipe. There are plants to tend, puzzles to solve, and many, many photographs to take.

It’s time to plug back in to this family I don’t know very well anymore, meet them all over again, and reconnect.

martha stewart day

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Autumn is officially here. And with it promises of at last harvesting the grapes that have been climbing up the side of our balcony. Bella asks almost every day – when will we pick the grapes? Last night in an energetic moment as an early dinner was winding to a close I suggested this was the time.

I’d love to see a cooking show in a real family setting, although a sit-com would probably be more appropriate. For example:

Last night J gave me a bemused smile as Bella and I headed outside armed with scissors and a pail. Despite J’s valiant effort at keeping her amused indoors it wasn’t long before Joy came out to help. Or rather, to help herself to some grapes. After a while we came in triumphant with our pickings and set about filling the sink to wash them. I pretended not to notice that Joy had trailed in with bunch in hand. I can not now imagine what kept me from confining her to a corner or a highchair or something, but that story comes later.

Soon Bella and I were moving the washed grapes onto the scale, interrupted by frequent rescue missions to return about a dozen ladybirds (or ladybugs if you prefer) to the aphids inhabiting the vines on the balcony. We were soon joined by Joy, who can never resist the sound of water and made herself at home throwing the washed grapes from the scale back into the sink. It was approaching bed time.

Bella and I finished washing and weighing three pounds of grapes, handed Joy off to J to free more ladybirds and change into dry pajamas, and started squeezing them into a bowl. Bella loves to help. Pulling grapes off of their stems and squeezing the inside out of the skin would have been enjoyable enough, but doing this next to me while we were both acquiring a set of very purple fingers was almost making her squeal with delight. A few minutes later we were off to wash hands, brush teeth and get ready for bed.

On my way to close curtains and pull back covers, I noticed something on the floor in the hall. A grape skin. Someone had stepped on one. I winced a little because it was squashed on the wood floor just outside my bedroom door – and the white carpet now complete with purple tracks over to the bed. The girls brushed their teeth, J and I brushed grape dye out of the carpet and I inspected everyone’s feet. Mine were complete with five little stickers on the soles.

Fast-forward to this morning. The girls played out on the deck for a while, coming in with more purple feet, followed by a bath and spot-cleaning the floor. As soon as Joy went down for a nap Bella and I set about making jam.

I should explain that my mother makes jam, and cans peaches, and freezes vegetables and fruit from her garden, as well as sewing and just about every other homespun crafty type skill. Since I’ve been married and had children, I’ve always felt odd about now growing a garden, preserving, and so on. This year we decided to give ourselves a summer off and not worry. Next year I hope to do much more outside.

Anyway, the reason for my rambling is to explain that I am not in possession of such things as a canning kettle, or special tongs to take hot jars out of boiling water, or that little magnet-on-a-stick thingy that Mom uses to take the sealing rings out of hot water either. I’ve only just this week, thanks to my lovely hubby, come into possession of jam jars.

Anyway, we put the grape flesh into a pot and simmered it for a few minutes until it turned mushy.

Then put it through a sieve to remove the seeds (after I’d tried unsuccessfully to use Mom’s food mill, which I haven’t returned yet since making apple sauce, and during which Joy woke up and wanted to help) and back into the pot with the skins to boil. During which it turned the most beautiful deep shade of purple.

To this we added three cups of sugar, which had been heated in the oven, and then, chaos. Back to our cooking show:

I’d somehow thought that there would be time to wash and sterilize jars while the jam was cooking. And this in spite of the fact that I was planning to use the same pot for both tasks. Suddenly I realized that the jam needed stirred constantly until it was done and then should be put straight into the unwashed, unsterilized jars on the counter.

Ahhh! So Bella stirred, while I told her about twenty times to do so slowly and carefully lest the heating sugar splash and burn her. And I ran down the stairs like a crazy person to find the box of odd pots my grandmother gave us when we moved into our house to see if there was a one large enough to sterilize more than two jars at a time. Eureka!

This was about when Joy decided she was tired and hungry and needed held. So being careful to lift the boiling kettle around and not over her, I flitted back and forth between the sink, kettle, and growing number of pots on the stove, stirring Bella’s jam and handing her back the spoon with more “careful!”s all the while trying to console Joy, hanging onto my leg.

Eventually Joy had had enough and I set a bowl of Mini-Wheats on the table as a precursor to lunch. While they nibbled I finished the jam, burned my fingers putting it into the jars and set the sealing rings on top. Done! All that was left was to process the jars so they’ll keep. I washed my purple pot, boiled yet more water, and set the jars inside. Mom told me when I called in a panic this morning that they should be covered in an inch of water and left to boil for twenty minutes. Ah hem…

Would a centimeter do?

In any case, the pot amazingly did not boil over and we have five jars of delicious purple goodness sealed on the counter and one in the fridge for immediate consumption – once we have some bread, mostly prepared in the course of one french counting songs soundtrack. If I’d planned this properly I would have baked some bread this morning. Maybe J will bring some home…

house rules

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Last night we instituted a new house rule; for family prayer time. I’m still shaking my head.

My beautiful four year old is so… exuberant in her devotion that we had to put some structure in place to avoid J and I, or at least I, being overcome by the noise just as bedtime should be right around the corner and losing it.

We’ve started using our prayer corner more in the evenings. The girls and I have decorated, installed a little piano on a rug, and it’s become a favourite spot in our home. Bella will often go and sit there for some still time or to make up songs for Jesus.

Last night she put the cross onto her little piano as she tried to teach us her latest composition amid Joy trying repeatedly to return it to it’s place on the little table. Between that and Joy’s quest to blow out the candles before time Bella did quite well at keeping calm. Which is hard to do while banging keys, singing praise songs at the top of your voice and telling a younger sibling ‘no’.

A few minutes later the candles were moved out of reach, permission for one last song was given and a plan was firming in my mind.

Personal prayer time is for whatever form of prayer we feel like engaging in. But during family prayers we pray together. We’ll each take a turn, beginning with the youngest, choosing a prayer, a song, or something else to pray together.

Joy is not yet saying very much, but she knows how to pray and reminds us often. The other day we came upstairs to change her nappy and as we did she put a little hand on my forehead, as we do for her each morning and evening, and prayed indiscernible words. When she’d finished she beamed me a big smile, hugged me tightly, and laid down to let me change her.

cats say moo

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I love the way Joy lights up when she sees animals. On a recent long drive her sleepy little voice was still pointing out horses in the fields as she drifted off to sleep with a quiet, “moo”. All animals say moo. And all animals are cats.

Her big sister was given a toy cat long ago which has become the favorite of both girls. When Joy began speaking ‘chat’ was among her first words. I remember Bella’s first real day out in the snow. A neighbourhood cat was lurking under cars while Bella poked and stepped and examined her tracks. Then she saw the cat. “Meow, meow, come” and she set off after it. I was thinking of that day yesterday as we walked by a display of toys (everything but cats) and Joy, pointed excitedly, calling “chat! chat! mooooo!”.

We don’t have a huge number of toys. Certainly enough, but I try to keep things within reasonable limits. Having been through the ultimate de-cluttering of emigrating, J and I are determined to keep our possessions to a healthy amount. All clutter now drives me up the wall. I do believe though, that children should be allowed to have a few things of their own for them to love and play with and look after. A certain amount of attachment is good for the soul, I think.

Which is why when we moved we brought a big box of toys. J and I sorted through everything, and lost a lot of excess stuff. Most of what was saved and shipped consisted of books, and one rather large, very special, very decorated box of carefully packed toys. It was the first box we looked for and unpacked once we’d arrived, and having those familiar things around them helped the girls to feel at home. Or at least less displaced.

Bella’s cat, which has an odd habit of changing name (Catty, Badger, Moses, Giraffe, and a few I never could pronounce) has been a constant cuddly companion for her. She looks for him when she’s sad or excited. She gives him to Joy when she needs cheering up. Her beloved little friend.

I think it may be time to find Joy a chat of her very own.