Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Challenge: Reveal The Person Behind Your Blog

Last year, someone on Blogher suggested that writers should enlighten their readers by revealing odd facts about themselves. A challenge went out and at least ten writers  posted their lists on Blogher. Well, to end the year on a reflective note, here is my list of humourous, and/or thoughtful insights about the person behind my blog- me

1. I HATE scary movies. As soon as the music rises ominously, I start pacing. Once in a movie theatre, at The Lord of the Rings, I jumped and managed to throw quarts of popcorn in a 4′ radius all around us. It landed in people’s hair, on their coats… everywhere. My husband has never let me hold the popcorn again.
2. I am the definitive bookworm. I read at least 5 books a week till I was 15, stopping only if I had too much homework to keep it up. My mother used to beg me on nice summer days to , “At least read outside!” Sometimes, to limit my late night reading, I have read perched on the edge of a cold tub, only to realize 2 hours later that I am frozen and can hardly walk.
3. I love STRONG tea, butter tarts, red wine and cilantro. I love old houses and restoring their beauty, gardening, big windows and old pine floors.
4. Someone told my mother that I was cute but my sister would be beautiful! I am short, 5′ 1″ and 104 lb. I was a cute little kid (the grade six girls wanted to cart me around like a doll ),  a cute new mother,  my kids’ friends think I am cute and I will be a cute, little old lady. Doomed to be forever cute.
5. I have a sadistic streak. The times I have laughed the hardest concern my husband and bathtubs. Once Michael was stuck in a too small bathtub, trying to rinse his hair with a princess shower head without getting any water on the floor. The second hilarious incident was when he was stuck in a cold bath, with his leg sticking straight out in a cast, while I attempted to haul him up! Both times I laughed so hard that I ended up on the floor. My husband did not even smile.
6. My athletic skills are dismal. Michael, my athletic husband finally gave up on trying to find a sport to suit me when he realized that the only possible choices were a very gentle game of badminton or croquet but even that was a stretch.
7. At 13, I played Becky Thatcher in a Tom Sawyer musical even though I really can’t sing. I also I had to kiss him in front of the school, then night performances, a televised production and sing on a record. I STILL cringe at the memory.
8. I can’t spell, type, and I am basically just entering the 21st century’s computer world. So what would be the most difficult dream be to fulfill? Why, become a writer and of course this is the path I find myself on.
9. I love my husband and my kids. I love play dough, looking for bugs, colouring, reading kids books and making doll houses. I really need lots of grandkids.
10. I am eccentric, living on the margins of society and I love quirky, intellectual nerds with a sense of humour. I often laugh in the face of tragedy. It works for me.Only my parents really get my humour.
11. God has managed to heal and love me in spite of myself and I could weep in gratitude for His patient mercy.
12. If it was not for my daughters buying me clothes, cutting and dying my hair and teaching me about make-up, I would look very frumpy.
13. I was pregnant and nursing, often both, for 18 years without a break. My husband says he saved me from becoming a nun librarian.
14. I am an inefficient square, trying to force myself to roll through chores like a circle. I just recently have begun to take delight in my inefficiency.
15. I need to start drawing and painting again.
16 My favorite books are The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the Bible.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Parable About a Frog

Throw a frog into a

Pot of boiling water;
He will jump right out.

Throw a frog into a
Pot of cold water,
Slowly raise the heat;
He will remain oblivious
Even unto death.

Throw a good man
Into a cruel society;
He will see injustice clearly and
 Speak out.

Throw a good man
Into a cold and polite society;
Slowly change
Standards and values.
He will remain silent,
With no sense of right or wrong 
Even unto death.

Friday, 27 December 2013

If the Grinch Can Change…

Dr. Seuss has a wonderful gift of delivering profound words of wisdom in humourous children’s stories and How The Grinch Stole Christmas is no exception. A mean-spirited Grinch, irritated by the joyful residents of Whoville decides to ruin Christmas by stealing every present, decoration and holiday delicacy only to discover that they still wake up singing with joy on Christmas morning for Christmas is not bought at a store. Somehow the Grinch sees, hears and understands and the has the courage to allow truth to literally transform him. His heart expands with love and generosity.

Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry BooHoo!” “That’s a noise,” grinned the Grinch, “That I simply MUST hear!”
So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. Then it started to grow. But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry! It couldn’t be so! But it WAS merry! VERY! He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes! Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise! Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all!

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  Dr. Seuss
And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches plus two. 
Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Shattered and Reborn

I once asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficent, modern house. He put on a phony, pious face, with his hands together in prayer and said in a high, mocking voice,
'Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord.'
What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was that I would be shallow, without depth and strength.
If this is the situation, I say bring on suffering because I want, no Ineed to live in reality. I refuse to simply play games during my time on earth. I can think of no greater tragedy than to die and discover that I had deluded myself, simply living happily on the surface, eating, drinking, doing chores, sleeping yet missing out on the core reality of what it means to be fully alive, fully human, in relationship to other people and to God.
I was just thinking that I had not shared about my pain,the struggle to raise nine kids, with little money on a hobby farm. I only really write about the joy of mothering. I friend also pointed out to me the other day that I never really talk about the long, dark periods in my life. I guess it is because joy always triumphs in the end in my life, I tend to forget about the painful years. The love of little people, strong tea, laughter and the Presence of God in the midst of chaos seems to crack anxiety and stress but yes, I have been shattered by the demands of mothering .
Yet God always manages to use those moments when I am shattered to crack my heart and soul open to more of His presence and healing. It is like childbirth, the pain is forgotten when I hold my newborn but on the other hand if there is no pain, there is no baby or new growth in the Spirit.
For me God speaks through books as well as my spiritual director and the written word has often changed my life, flipped an inner switched by bringing insight and clarity. I realize that each difficult stage in mothering is normal, not a big deal because all mothers go through similar experiences. So I am not going through a dramatic or unusual crisis. I can see each difficult stage as a call from God to change and grow by going deeper, accessing the strength of the Holy Spirit within my own heart.
I want to live in Christ, healed, fully alive and strong enough to serve. I cannot tolerate the idea that my life was spent playing games, pretending to live, unable to love whether as a mother, wife, daughter or friend.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

An Ode to Christmas Trees

I salute  Christmas trees
With an ode to all trees be they stubby or tall,
Real or fake,
Green or sparkly silver for
All trees are creative signs of hope.
Lit with tiny lights,
Each light a flaming symbol to new life.
It does not matter if we are secret cynics the rest of the year;
Christmas trees are metaphors for family warmth and celebrations,
Evoking Christmas past,
Radiant as Christmas present and
Promising Christmases yet to come.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Remembering Christmas Magic with Nine Kids

As I clean and get ready for our adult children to come home from university and work in the city, it is nice to remember the magic of Christmases when they were little. In fact the scent of magic is still in the air, especially as our 3 and soon to be five grandbabies join our family! When you live with nine children, even the most crusty curmudgeon cannot resist the magic of Christmas.
It was still dark outside, way too early for my husband and I; we had worked to set up on Christmas Eve till 2:00 am. Although we couldn’t even pry our eyes open, we were smiling with contentment as we lay in bed, listening to the excited whispers and giggles of our three youngest children. They made their way down the front stairs whispering in awe because one of the older kids had intertwined multi-coloured lights around the banister, transforming the dark staircase into a magical pathway to the tree.
First, the trio ducked into the formal living room to see the presents for the first time and special candy canes on the tree. In our old farm-house, our bedroom was right above the kitchen and we had left the kitchen back stairs door open. Suddenly another excited gasp of surprise escaped their lips as they gazed in wonder around the transformed kitchen.
A gingerbread house, created at night when the littlest kids were sleeping, sat in the centre of the table with a fruit bowl, dishes of candies, nuts and, best of all, sugar cereal! The whole room was edged with coloured lights and Christmas towels, tablecloth,napkins, pot holders with bright red ribbons on all the door handles.
One year a friend at Madonna House, Martha, asked Alison what her favorite thing about Christmas was and she said,
“The pineapple!”.
Her answer shocked Martha but I was simply pleased. I understood that children notice and appreciate the small things. No detail escapes them. Without much extra cash during the year, they still to this day treasure every detail, ornament and treat that was and still is part of Christmas.
When a few of the oldest kids were in their mid to late teens, friends would ask to come over and set up with us. They would cart presents downstairs, arrange them, help fill 11 stockings and hang lights. They were intrigued by our large family with all the hustle and bustle and activity. It was never boring at our house The teens craved the joy and excitement of creating magic for younger children who did not receive many frills during the rest of the year. I think they also craved the sense of stability, of a family grounded in the old-fashioned values of mutual love and respect.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Pigs, Pigs, Those Intelligent Pigs: editor's choice award on ReadWave

Readwave logo
 Pigs, Pigs, Those Intelligent Pigs is one of ten  chosen stories up for consideration for theeditor’s choice award .You can vote for this story by putting it up on your Facebook page
Dear Staff Reviewers, Thank you very much for your recommendations last week. I was very happy to see so many of you shared stories on Facebook and Twitter. It really helped us to see what kind of stories are suitable for sharing online. There was one story in particular, which you all overwhelmingly chose to share.  Pigs, Pigs, Those Intelligent Pigs 
                                          Pigs, Pigs, Those Intelligent Pigs

Our family treasures hilarious memories of our animals

 but some of the most amusing and heartwarming stories are about our pigs.

Pigs are popular these days, especially teacup pigs who are worth up to $2,500.00 each. However, our family loves real farm hogs because they are friendly, smart and crafty. For twenty years we have raised meat birds, laying hens, 4 pigs, a calf and loved an old Arabian and a beautiful warm-blooded show horse.
When the local hog farmer drove over to deliver our four little piglets in the spring, he stayed for almost an hour enjoying their introduction to free range living. In fact, most of the family stood around their pasture, watching and laughing. The piglets literally leaped and twisted in the air in utter bliss as they emerge from the truck. Like most modern farmers, our neighbourhood supplier built an efficient, modern, clean setup. That meant that his hogs never breathed fresh air, saw the sun or touched dirt or vegetation.

read the rest of the story >http://www.readwave.com/pigs-pigs-those-intelligent-pigs_s13492
Jie-Wei Zhou -after school

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Tender Tidings: Free Magazine

The winter issue of Tender Tidings, the free magazine for intentional Catholic parents, is now available for viewing! Just click on the flipbook to explore.
This issue is devoted to raising creative children.  Dr. Greg Popcak wrote an article on why family creativity time is good for the whole family;  Marcia Mattern shares ideas about creating a prayer corner in our homes;  Michaelyn Hein has some great ideas for making story time more creative.
look for my article 
Ingenuity and Creativity are Birthed in Boredom
When your kids announce that they are bored, how do you respond?
Do you rush to fix this horrible state of affairs? Well boredom is not a disease that needs cured.
All children need free time to discover who they are, what they are good at and what they enjoy. Provide them with art materials, books, old-fashioned wooden blocks, cardboard boxes and a costume box ; let them discover the joy of creating something beautiful out of nothing.Unplug your kids from all electronics everyday and give them the gift of time, time even to lay on the grass and simply look at the clouds.  read more on page 25

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Canadian Backwoods Cuisine Served With Comic Results

My husband, Michael, who loves nature and his rather eccentric, counter-culture pal, P.J., had driven about an hour away, up the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, to fish in one of the thousands of lakes which surround us. Driving home in the twilight, they caught sight of a porcupine in their head lights. Now Michael and P.J. had lived together in the wilderness for a month after university, surviving on fish,  chewy, tough turtle meat, rice and coffee. Never one to waste good, organic meat, P.J. immediately yelled,
” Mike, pull over. Porcupine is good eating.”
The chance to sample porcupine meat is rare because you really are not allowed to hunt these lazy animals; laws protect them because they are so easy to kill. If a man is lost in the woods, he simply bops a waddling porcupine on the nose (if he can avoid the quills) and can soon eat a delicious, tender meal.In defence of these two hunters, I will add that this is the only time either of them has ever shot a porcupine.
The two acting survivalists decided to nail their kill to a tree right by the side of the road, simply skinning the carcass to avoid the quills and gutting it. Michael and P.J. arrived home chuckling over their good fortune, still debating the best way to cook the tender meat. Finally, they decided to stuff the it with a bread, onion, garlic and herbs and wrap it in bacon.
Suddenly a wicked idea popped into my head,
John was coming over for dinner tomorrow. He was actually extemely conservative in his tastes but loved to act artistic, cultured and sophisticated around us. In his eyes we were a boring couple with no life, stuck on a farm, saddled with a parcel of little kids.
“What if I served roasted porcupine for dinner tomorrow when John is here?”
P.J. burst out laughing,
” And don’t say a thing until he has eaten at least half of his meal. I would love to see the look on his face!”
The following evening John arrived wearing a tweed jacket with his shirt collar and cuffs pulled up over it, a scarf casually draped around his neck and a jaunty beret. Michael and I secretly smiled at each other as he raved over the delicious meal. Smiling mischievously I casually remarked,
“John, did you know that you are actually eating porcupine?”
He froze, fork held in mid-air with a brief look of horror on his face,
“Mel, you are joking, right?”
“Not at all”, I replied, “Since you are so very cosmopolitan, I just knew you would enjoy something exotic.”
John smiled weakly, nodded and then slowly lowered his fork. He did not eat another bite of his meat.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Vermeer’s Vulnearable Women

It is fascinating to me that a man would be sensitive to the plight of women in his male dominated society during the 1600′s. Johannes Vermeer  was a famous  Dutch painter, one of the great masters , who lived from 1632–1675  in Delft. I love many of Vermeer’s painting and have used them in articles, in my sidebar and even as a heading for one of the sites I administer. There is a story embedded in each painting, often alluding to a woman’s vulnerability in society even without the  actual presence of a man in the painting. The effect of  a man’s presence is felt as they read a letter or simply look out a window or over their shoulder.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Dung-Coloured Glasses

Ah, we love to make fun of those in love, the young and the naive who view the world through rose-coloured glasses but what about the rest of us, those of us who wear dung-coloured glasses? We should chuckle just as loudly when we realize this tendency to see darkly. When I am miserable, nothing, not riches, nor prestige or a change in circumstances, nothing can change my interior unhappiness.
There is a scene at the end of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narniathat has stayed with me for decades. The fictitious characterization of the grumpy, miserable dwarves taught me about my own dung-coloured glasses because their perception of reality was so obviously skewed, their behaviour hilariously outrageous. This scene is an example of what cognitive therapy tries to teach us about the power of our presumptions to imprison us in misery. Our paradigms prevent us from experiencing a new life when it is offered to us.
The enemies of Aslan have imprisoned the children, a few animals, Prince Caspian, as well as disgruntled dwarves in a shed that is dank and dark, filled with putrid straw, stale water and rotten cabbages to eat. A war against the evil forces rages outside. Outwardly, it seems that all is lost, yet the children, Prince and animals hold on to the belief that Aslan, who is a Christ figure, will come and save Narnia. Of course the dwarves mock their ridiculous faith.
Suddenly Aslan appears, vanquishes the enemy and the back of the prison crumbles revealing a glorious sight. It is Narnia, but more resplendent, filled with a radiant light. Everything is more colourful, beautiful, fragrant. It is a resurrected Narnia. Heaven has come to earth. A table, covered with a white cloth and laden with delicacies, beckons them.
Everyone celebrates by feasting on the delicious food laid out before them as they delight in the beauty all around. The dwarves, hang back suspicious and mistrustful. When they finally venture a nibble of a delicacy they spit it out in disgust. All they taste is stale water and rotten cabbages . All they see is the dark, dank prison.The grumpy dwarves refuse this new life that the other characters are enjoying right beside them.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Knife in My Heart

 I stood at the sink,
pain lancing my chest,
sobbing silently,
tears blinding me as I tackled a mound of dirty dishes.
Exhaustion weighed heavy,
my arms like stone.
I was alone, disconnected
I could almost see the knife
piercing my heart.
There was a name on the handle;
I strained my inner eye,
expecting to see my husband’s name carved in the wood
But No!
I tried to manipulate the letters but I could not force them to spell his name.
The etched letters
clearly spelled Melanie.
My eyes widened,
I literally gasped in shock.
Truth pierced,
dissolving the knife and the sharp pain with it into insubstantial mist.
I was the architect of my misery,
a dramatic self-made victim,
acting like a pitiful scapegoat.
Reality made me smile.
An inner switch flipped.
Misery slipped off like useless rags
The mountain of work thrown into the sea by a mustard seed of common sense because there was no mountain except in my self-pitying delusions of martyred grandeur.
Self-depreciating laughter,
Cutting through Stress.
A Strange Calm.


Sunday, 1 December 2013

What’s Your Writing Process?

How do you approach your writing process? Are you an inveterate outliner, or do you let your ideas flow and follow them where they take you? Would you consider using more process than you currently do or less? What do you make of the idea of starting by writing your endings and then working to them from the beginning?
About 18 months ago, 
when I closeted myself in a room to sit down and write,
I froze.
I considered writing to be a solitary craft
but looking at a blank screen
or talking into thin air
was a sterile exercise in futility for me.
I could not translate
the same creative energy
that I experienced telling a story verbally,
to the keyboard.
My imagination lay dormant.
My logical intellect wrote boring drivel.
I heard the word blog.
Somehow in the whirl of creating and designing a site,
I learned to close the wings of my self critizing brain,
to open the wings of my imagination and intuition,
liberating a fountain of words that lay buried
deep in my subconcious.
an idea springs up from my inner self,
reflections and connections
seem to take on a life of their own.
I can hardly type fast enough to keep up to the flow of words
It is like writing with my fingertips,
not my brain.
Like a butterfly that struggled for years to emerge
from a cocoon of exhaustion
My words emerged,
reformed, renewed, reborn.
I realize now that I really am a story-teller. My oral skills have always been excellent, even as a small child. I delight in the energy and flow of words, dramatic gestures and the relationship with even one listener when I tell one of our legendary stories about the exploits of nine kids on a farm. Yes, my Irish side is alive and well and pushing me to write.
I write to engage with other people, to contribute my voice to issues in our society or to share an insight that might help a fellow human being. I write because no one has the same experiences or the same opinions as I do. I write because I have discovered a voice that is unique, a voice that simply must communicate.
For me the joy mothering has been my call, my vocation and my silent witness to the world for 32 years. Now writing has become the method of expressing that vocation to a world that has largely forgotten the wisdom of mothers and more importantly, the wisdom of children.
I have discovered that just like I like I can form a story as I tell it, now I can create as I type. When an episode or opinion pops into my brain, I did not consciously choose to write about that topic or person. It was an eureka moment, that surprised me. I wonder,
“Where did that thought or memory come from? I haven’t thought about him for years!”
Suddenly an entire story rises up from that one thought because I have assimilated emotions, reflections, connected quotes, philosophy and integrated it all with my faith. Initially my right brain takes over, creativity flows like a river of words. The entire process is largely subconscious. I unwittingly combine a spirit of creativity with a gift to craft words together. Writers in past centuries called it the muse. Left logical brain editing follows afterwards. However, if I attempt to write the first draft with my logical left brain, the article is stilted, boring and painful to read.
I suppose I am not ready to write a masterpiece but I have tasted what it is like to connect to the powerful creative force that flows through all of us. Creativity is addictive. Nothing surpasses the thrill of sitting in front of a blank page or screen with an equally blank mind when an spark deep with me flares up and a story emerges in the middle of the flames. I simply start writing naturally, almost without effort. The words flow as fast as I can type. I do not think; I just type. As Ray Bradbury says,
Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.
“I do not plan my fiction any more than I normally plan woodland walks; I follow the path that seems most promising at any given point, not some itinerary decided before entry.”~John Fowles
“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. ~Sharon O’Brien”

My point is that when anyone begins writing, resist the temptation to imitate other writer’s style. Find your own voice. Write from your heart and soul. Write what you are passionate about and your enthusiasm and joy will open the door to words which connect with your readers. In other words, you will begin the journey to become a great writer