My Valentine’s Day Gift For You

Pretend you’re sitting at my kitchen table. Pretend I offer you something to drink, like chocolatey-chai tea. Pretend I have to take a dirty cup out of the dishwasher and wash it. Pretend I hand you your tea, but forget to give you sugar or honey or a spoon. Pretend I give you a red construction paper valentine. Pretend you open it and find…

Bee and Me. I just “read” this wordless picture book to Vivi, got up from my couch, set her in front of the IPAD, and opened up my blog to write this. That’s how much I liked it. It’s a story about a girl and a bee and wildflowers and hope, likely found at your local library!

(I was attracted to the cover of this book because I knew my husband would be intrigued. On a side note, tasting honey in winter is a bit like pillow-cases that smell like last summer. Stan’s honey, or rather the honey made by bees with whom Stan spends inordinate amounts of time, has a different taste than the regular canola honey I’m used to. It’s more floral and reminds me of the miracle of tasting wildflowers while the snow falls.)

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This book. So proud of my friend and writing coach, Kirsten Krymusa, for curating her summer in a French cottage for the rest of us to read, laugh about and imagine.

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The poem, Staying Power, by Jeanne Murray Walker (thanks for the recommendation Kirsten). Here’s a teaser:

…Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck
wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which—though they say it doesn’t
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit…

And today’s song, When Love Meets Dust , by Alana Levandoski. I’d like to meet her someday, she doesn’t live too far away! (Thanks for the recommendation Rebecca.)

alana levandoski

…Pretend these beautiful words and notes spill all over the table. Pretend it’s my gift to you.

Happy Valentine’s!

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Artist Blessing

I’m fighting with filing cabinets and piles of receipts and spreadsheets and my eye-lids feel heavy. I hate financial record keeping! Two hours later I’m still shuffling papers, trying to prepare my final Wonderscape report  for the Saskatchewan Arts Board. Maybe I need to eat. Maybe I need to sleep. Maybe I need to take a break from all this. A moment later I come across the Artist Blessing I read together with my fellow Wonderscape participants last September.

It buoyed me somewhat.

Here it is for all of you, wherever you are and whatever kind of shuffling you’re doing today:

Artist Blessing

You were created to create.

You are gifted with an original set of experiences,

sensitivities and passions that no one else can replicate.

You are uniquely positioned in your family and community—in

this place and time in history–

to give what nobody else in the world can give.

May your eyes be opened to the abundant opportunities.

May you hear the Universe shout and whisper,

inviting you to enflesh, name, and reflect Beauty.

May you be protected from the crush of jealously,

fear and insecurity.

May your work replenish, surprise and awaken you.

May you empty yourself and your ego

so that when you release your art into the world

you are, at the same time, filled to overflowing

with more new ideas than you could ever hold.

May you live in that deep place of always-enough,

open to Inspiration,

aware of Mystery,

connected to the Creator.

-Tricia Friesen Reed

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My youngest daughter, during her first canoe-trip a couple years ago

…The only reason I can half-stand what I’m doing today is because I’m already excited about the next retreat (Sept. 2018). Still hooked on this.

The Rich List

I cut apple slices and the kids pull up the homemade (and still unpainted) wooden stools to the computer screen. I bring over Vivi’s rickety highchair, the 40-year-old one I fell in love with at a garage sale (that now has a gaping crack down the back), and situate her between her sisters.

We’re watching a home-buying show and the camera pans marble counter tops, large foyers with loads of storage, gleaming appliances, cavernous showers, and sprawling acreages. The husband and wife deliberate on their final choice; how will they ever decide?

“I’d pick the third one. The Cape Cod with 4,000 square feet that’s all brand new,” says Susanna.

“Not me,” responds Belén. “The first is way better. Did you see those trails through the trees and the pool in in the backyard?”

Soon the credits roll and I sigh. Looking around my living space that suddenly seems cramped and shabby, I wonder why we’re still using the old press-board bookcase my parents gave us when we moved back to Canada. Surely we could afford something better by now! And the paint colour in the living room is starting to feel obnoxious–I’ll definitely have to change it this spring.

Belén jumps off her stool and picks Vivi’s stuffed animals off the floor. Then she heads to the craft cabinet and starts shuffling the mound of papers that accumulate daily.

“What are you doing?” I ask Belén while both Susanna and I stare. “Are you trying to spruce this place up?”

“Yes,” she answers emphatically.

Meanwhile, Susanna is thinking hard. “Mom, we need to sell our house,” she concludes. “We need something bigger. Newer. Like those houses.”

Then I realize we all feel the same way. I also realize this is exactly how we’re supposed to feel. That the producers of the show have done a fine job, if money is the bottom line and the show is meant to generate revenue for their sponsors. I also know that people buy things when they respond to felt needs. Which means we have to be made to feel we don’t have enough, to be of any use as consumers.

I explain all this to the girls and tell them to think about it the next time they want something newer, bigger or better. It’s not that buying new things is bad, or that wanting to change your paint colour is bad, or that TV is bad, or that spending money is bad. These can all be life-giving creative expressions. What I am wary of is allowing myself to be influenced by companies who benefit when I feel I lack something. Or, in other words, manufactured dissatisfaction. I tell my daughters that it’s dangerous to listen to someone who tells you what you need, especially when they end up with your cash.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, without staring at a screen, of what makes us feel rich and satiated. Often, these very things are never mentioned in any kind of advertisement or marketing campaign. My list is very Tricia-specific and though it’s similar to a gratitude list, it’s more narrow in focus. While I am certainly thankful for my friends, family, and health, not everything I am grateful for fits on the list. The “rich list” is not abstract, but made of the lush details in my life that really do make me feel wealthy–that I have even more than enough.

This list is about butter and real whipped cream and buttermilk and full-fat yoghurt and cream cheese and having them all in my fridge before their expiry date is up, even when I don’t have a recipe in mind in which to use them.

It’s about deep powdery snow that covers the wheat stubble in the fields and sprays behind ski-doos and weighs heavily on spruce-tree boughs.

It’s about pulling a pillow-case from my linen drawer in the middle of January that was line-dried outside and still smells like last summer.

It’s about the size of my chalkboard.

It’s about leaving the library with 32 books in the stroller and telling my older daughters they have to stop reading–at least until we cross Broadway and reach the sidewalk where it’s safer with your nose in a book.

It’s about sprinkling fresh herbs on a plateful of vegetables when the world outside my window is frozen solid; green onions on sweet potato soup, cilantro on pad thai, and rosemary on roasted potatoes.

It’s about hand-made pottery mugs.

It’s about ski-pants with crotch zippers for ventilation.

It’s about burning beeswax candles on any old week night, just because.

When Stan comes home from work he steps into the kitchen with his boots on. They’re still dripping with melted snow and leaving dirty puddles on the floor, which usually irritates me but this time I don’t mention it. Instead, I stand on tip-toes and put my hands around his neck. “Welcome home–home to where your wife loves you, where you have three beautiful daughters, and where there’s insulation in the attic.”

My husband is surprised by my lavish greeting and pulls back. “Whoa… What’s this about?” he asks.

“Oh, we watched this show and thought we needed a new home, but now we  don’t.” I go back to chopping herbs for dinner; fresh green onions on sweet potato coconut curry soup. Things don’t always turn around this fast. Tomorrow I might feel the same way I did a few minutes ago. Which is why I need the list to remind myself.

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*I wrote this post a year ago and it languished in my draft folder until this morning, when I re-read it. Initially I thought readers would think it trite, but it’s true, so I’m posting it.

** What makes you feel rich? Leave your lavish remarks in the comments! I’d love to know.

 

 

Nothing World Changing

I sit at our kitchen counter, wearing earmuffs and typing as fast as I can. I’m using industrial hearing protection to block out the constant chatter and humming all around me. Belén is painting a watercolour for her friend Keauna, Susanna is reading on the couch, Stan is sculpting clay and Vivi is looking for attention wherever she can get it.

Turning away from the monitor and sliding my muffs down to my neck I announce, “I’m just about there now! I’ve almost caught it!” Then I explain how writing is like galloping after a wild horse; with every sentence I strain forward in the saddle until I swing the lasso and capture the bucking idea.

Susanna ignores me, Stan keeps massaging the mud, Vivi doesn’t seem to care about my philosophy, and Belén just says, “I fall off the horse, before I get close enough, every time.”

The next day I send the blog draft to my sister with the subject: Can I post this? I also ask Stan to read what I wrote. I want to know if it’s too preachy, too offensive or condescending. Stan affirms that it is all of the above. Tara hesitates on the phone when she calls to give me feedback. She suggests publishing it where nobody I know will read it. Then she asks if I would be willing to say it in a face-to-face conversation with my readers. Now it’s my turn to hesitate.

Shucks.

The problem with the offensive blog piece is that I said exactly what I wanted to say and don’t feel like changing it. Not yet, anyway.

My Auntie Fritz recently asked me if I have a temper. “You write about it in your blog but I’ve never seen you frustrated,” she said. When I assured her that I do, indeed, get hopping mad and am not scared of a little conflict, she nodded her head. “That’s good,” she said, “then you can change the world.”

I liked that.

But how do you know when it’s a good time to change the world or write a blog post or get angry? That’s some tricky business I haven’t yet mastered. I have a feeling that heeding caution from my closest confidantes is a step in the right direction. So I’ll sit tight and let that wild horse of an idea run free a little longer. Changing the world will have to wait.

Instead, I’ll go after something more predictable and safe. Something like a photo-collage, the kind you might get in your mailbox from us if we did that sort of thing. A genteel Happy New Year from our house to yours.

Love Tricia, for the rest

Skating on the pond at Tim and Kristalyn’s with Grandpa

Christmas with my mom’s sisters and our adopted families from Ethiopia and Iran

Belén got henna for Christmas… tatoos all around…

Susie LOVES serving people with her new chocolate fountain

cousins…missing a few very important ones 🙂

Stan and his dad making a pottery wheel from scratch

B and Simon. We didn’t take boots to Indiana because we thought it would be warm and dry. We were wrong.

Auntie Annie and Susanna… so much to do together, so little time

first pottery lesson with Marea, the master

 

 

 

The Jesus-thing

On Saturday I read a blog post* about the nativity story. The description of Mary and the animals and the blood and the baby is fleshy. Funny. Real. And sharp. I’m drawn in by the wit and candor of the author and keep reading until the end, where I am surprised at the wrap-up. There are no claims of deity. No religious hooks. No message of Emmanuel, God-with-us. It’s just a story of a teenage mother and father, bumbling around in a dirty stable trying to figure out this thing called parenthood and what it means to love and be a family. (Which, let’s admit, is about as spiritual as it gets, figuring out how to love the people we live with.)

I scroll down and see someone’s appreciative comment. I read it three times over: We don’t do the Jesus-thing but we want to embrace the meaning of Christmas. I sense her gratitude for the re-telling devoid of religious agenda, making it palatable and accessible.

I also feel a bit sick to the stomach. Which seems overly-dramatic. Even writing it here now, makes me self-conscious. The comment is understandable. Many of my dearest friends could easily write the same. We don’t do the Jesus thing.

I don’t blame the people I love and respect for feeling uncomfortable with the Jesus story. It can lead to all kinds of trouble, like trying to explain who God is to your children when you’re not even sure yourself. Like the problem of Christianity and it’s sordid history. Like questions about the priorities of churches today, and heaven forbid, politics that make your hair stand up on the back of your neck. Like exclusion and gate-keeping and pointing at who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s in and who’s out.

I also don’t blame my friends who are indifferent about the whole thing altogether. Who don’t mind hearing the Christmas story once or twice and then moving on with their lives. The story hasn’t made much of a difference in the Christians they know or work with, so what does it matter? It’s easier to let people believe what they want without getting too worked up about theology and fundamentals. To try and get along without making a big deal about a controversial man who had a penchant for stirring the pot.

And yet, somehow, it breaks me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been reading Luci Shaw poems of the incarnation** every night before bed, or because the comment followed such a visceral description of the birth, or why, exactly. It’s not like I’m surprised that someone out there isn’t all Jesus-y. Most people aren’t. But still, it sticks with me.

On Sunday morning we are scrambling to get to church. Stan and I are in the Christmas pageant as Mary and Joseph, and the girls are part of the children’s choir. We should be in the vehicle already and are yelling at each other to get out the door. Stan can’t find the tuner. Vivi doesn’t want to wear her cute black boots and is coughing and snotty. Susanna is still out of breath and fatigued from her bout with pneumonia. Belén’s throat is sore and swollen and my voice is raspy too. The guitar bangs out the door and into the cold air. When we finally get to church and Stan is pulling the striped Joseph-costume over his head, he’s still asking why we have to do this. None of it feels very spiritual. Or meaningful. Or transcendent. Obligatory would be a more accurate description.

Then Stephanie hands me her newborn daughter, the one cast as baby Jesus. Ah yes, the baby. She’s fast asleep and I tense my shoulders to make a nest for her that’s as cozy as her mother’s. We need something to wrap her in. “Hey,” I yell at Jennifer, while the kids are bouncing around us like popcorn in hot oil. “I forgot we need swaddling clothes!” She shushes the children and hands me an old scarf. Now we are ready to start.

The kids tromp onto the stage; the sheep with their floppy ears, the wise-men with their dollar-store crowns, the shepherds in their terry cloth and an assortment of barn animals. Verna starts playing the piano, which is our cue to come in. I sit in my chair beside the manger and hold baby Jesus, whose tiny rib cage presses in and out against mine. I look down at her scalp and study her hair-line, her pursed lips, the nose that is just as perfect as every other baby nose, and all I want to do is cry.

I feel like I need to warn Stan. “I’m feeling really emotional” I whisper sideways. He looks at me and doesn’t say anything. The children continue singing their song about the stranger in the straw.

Soon it’s our turn. Stan grabs his guitar, Susie her violin, and Belén takes the mike. We mess up right away and have to start over again. When I come in on the chorus I feel like I’m barely making a sound. My voice is hoarse and my harmony line is wobbly. All the while I’m holding the baby, the stranger the barn animals want to know more about.

“His name is Jesus. I can’t believe God chose me to be his mother,” I whisper into the mike after we are done singing. It doesn’t feel so much like acting now. Or cliché script material. I really can’t believe it. God chose a human mother for himself. God chose human skin. With cradle cap. God chose tiny ribs. God chose colic and gas and indigestion. God chose the frustrations of toddler-hood. God chose to be a refugee. God chose “to be acquainted with our grief.”**

“His name is Jesus,” I repeat, trying to keep my voice steady. “He will be called Counsellor.” I look down at the infant chest, heaving up and down in my arms with vulnerability. I am mute with emotion. This is ridiculous, I pep-talk myself, it’s just a puny little line. But nothing makes it past the gigantic lump in my throat.

Stan says my next words for me. “Almighty God…”

Almighty God!

And I join in on the final, “Everlasting Father.”

The play continues and I keep holding Jesus. I don’t want to stop being Mary. I don’t want to stop being so near to Christmas.

Later that afternoon, when everything is over and we’re at home, I go back to the blog post I can’t stop thinking about. I read the comment again–the one about not being into the Jesus-thing. All of a sudden something is different. I feel bubbly and light. The comment doesn’t seem disturbing, in fact, it’s more comedic than anything. I want to shout and laugh. “It’s okay if you don’t do the Jesus-thing! God’s got it! He’s way ahead of you!” He’s made a gigantic swoop-turn out of history, like a hockey player who changes directions in the blink of an eye and dekes out the defense. The move makes me want to clap big mitts together, stomp on the bleachers and clang cowbells.

Yes, yes, yes! God came down. IT doesn’t matter if you’re into the Jesus thing or not. Even if you don’t do Jesus, Jesus does you. That’s the craziness of the whole story.  That’s why we get into bath robes and show our bare feet and pale hairy legs in front of the church, two-thousand years later.

A baby was born and turned the cosmos around. Even if you’re not into Jesus, even if you have religious baggage or find it all politically uncomfortable or you don’t know how to tell your kids the bible story, it doesn’t matter. Indeed, it’s precisely because of this indifference or confusion, that Jesus came. This is the bizarre news. This is the hilarity of Christmas. That God put on flesh to be with us whether we recognize him or not.

SAMSUNG

With love and cowbells,

Tricia

If none of this resonates with you, or if you think I’m dead wrong, thanks for making it this far. I’m honoured you’re here and am interested in your comments.

*see Liz James Writes

**I know at least three of you who will love BC poet, Luci Shaw (if you’re not already reading her)! I used the phrase “acquainted with our grief” because I’d just read her poem, A Blessing for the New Baby.

 

 

Eating My Words

When my oldest daughter was a toddler she was always impeccably dressed. Her wardrobe, full of cute shoes, colourful tights, adorable tunics and matching vests, was the result of our family and friends’ generosity. When Stan and I returned from years of volunteer service in Bolivia, expecting a child, we were showered with more clothes than we knew what to do with. And Belén wore them all.

As I paraded Belén around I felt sorry for other mothers who didn’t have the wherewithal or resources to properly clothe their children. One friend, in particular, puzzled me in this regard. Although they had enough money, her youngest daughter always looked disheveled. Unkempt, even. I wondered why she wouldn’t take a little more care with her child. Did she know how sloppy she looked? How haphazard her daughter’s outfits were; sweatpants stuffed into scuffed cowboy boots, scrappy t-shirts layered with gauze blouses, and most of it faded, stained or ripped? Was there no one in charge of dressing her?

I remember getting Belén ready, before an outing with this family, thinking the parents might take note of my daughter’s coordinated outfits and be inspired to try a little harder…

Wince.

That was over a decade ago.

Things have changed.

I now eat my (unsaid) words daily, one crazy ensemble at a time.

Yesterday my three-year-old wore a pair of pants, sized at 6 months, with holes all over them. “I’m just like Belén,” she said, comparing herself to her 13-year-old sister whose brand new jeans are perfectly ripped and torn. To a birthday party last weekend she wore a summer dress (this, in December) with mud stains and a pair of dirty tights. And I let her.

When Vivian wears her pink-stripped sundress with the too-big sparkly skirt and ripped tights with mismatching socks I look at her and wonder how it happened. Did my older daughters put up such a fight when it came to getting dressed? Did they have the same sensitivities and opinions on fabric and design? And if so, did I simply plow ahead to get them into appropriate clothing? All I know is that whatever energy and resolve it took to get the job done then is gone now.

One morning before we head out–after Vivian is finally dressed, after our daily fight and her daily victory–she looks at me and smiles.

“Mommy, am I perfect?” she asks, showing her little teeth and gums, while she twirls around.

I eye her warily. I’m annoyed and still sweaty from trying to get the brand new jeans on her that she hasn’t ever worn. Is this a test? How do I answer and still hold on to any shred of power?

“Yes,” I sigh. “Yes, you are perfect.” Then I think of the other mom, the one I didn’t understand years ago, the one I pitied and hoped to enlighten with my own fashion sense. I send my silent apology for all my ignorance out to the universe and tremble. What ridiculous ideas do I have now that will be laughable in 10 years?

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Waiting and Watching; Advent 2017

It feels like we’ve been celebrating advent for awhile around here. The waiting part, that is. Susanna has been battling a lung infection for the last two weeks and we’ve all spent many hours rubbing her back, wiping her brow, giving her medicine, serving her orange juice, and waiting, waiting, waiting for her to get better.

A friend stopped by yesterday and when she saw Susie laying on the couch she exclaimed, “I knew something was wrong! I barely recognized her voice on the phone because it sounded so normal!” Instead of the usual fake accent and you’ve-reached-the-pizza-parlour, or some other crazy response, it was only a weak “Hello” that threw our friend off.

Waiting for Susanna to return to her exuberant self is a little like the waiting we do before Christmas. During advent we are waiting for Jesus, waiting for the Light to pierce the darkness, waiting for brokenness to be made whole, waiting for the restoration promised us by a baby born centuries ago. But advent (meaning a coming or approach)  is also about celebrating the arrival; that Divinity, indeed, has already come and is here with us.

I draw up a new chalkboard sign to remind me of all this, but I’m not sure it helps. I’m still trying to figure out presents and am worried I don’t have enough. I stress about coordinating holiday plans and dates and traveling. But I see a glimmer of hope. I don’t worry about the baking (we all know I’ve given up on that one) and I notice things. Like this…

*

I’m washing dishes when I overhear Vivian playing “refugees” for a second time this week. I dry my hands on a towel and walk over to watch her where she can’t see me.

“We have to go. Pack up every-fing” she says herding plastic figurines into a toy van. Ernie, Bert, Polly-Pocket and a pony, or two, are fleeing together. “It’s a new country,” she murmurs to herself and her toys. “You’ll be safe here,” she reassures them.

*

I’ve had a bad day and feel like crying. I call Stan to see when he’ll be home and if I have time to go for a walk. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he says.  I decide to stay home so we can eat as soon as he arrives. A moment later he calls me back. “Don’t wait,” he says. “Go for a walk now. The sun is setting and you’ll like it.”

*

I take Belén home after a midnight pool party with the youth group. Instead of going straight to bed, we plug in the kettle and brew some tea. She looks at my literary magazine on the table, the one with the weird poetry that neither of us understand, and makes fun of it. Then she tells me about an image from her day that she wishes she could capture.

“Why don’t you write about it in your journal?” I suggest.

“Ugh! No way! That’s too much work. Besides, it’s frustrating. It’s like I’ve got all these words, but when I put them together they don’t hold anything. Like an empty box.”

“Mmm,” I say while sipping my tea, glad she’s not journaling after all. Glad she’s talking to me.

*

The Cree drummer and pow-wow singer invites everyone from the bleachers onto the gymnasium floor. He tells us to hold hands and dance in a circle. Slowly people get out of their seats and reach for other hands. The singer beats his drum and wails his foreign melody while we step in time. I see the Nigerian obstetrician, whose clinic is just down the street, and the Jamaican lady who works at McDonald’s. The politicians, who came to deliver their obligatory speeches, are now holding hands with mothers who have babies on their hips. The Indian dancers, dressed in white turbans and tunics, slide along beside old men with stiff legs and cowboy boots.

*

I’m not sure how, or why, but in these moments I feel Advent. I feel His coming. These random, mostly-normal moments in my mostly-normal week are reminders for me. God is here… in my three-year-old’s empathy, in my husband’s prompt to watch the sunset, in late-night conversations with my teenager, in a round dance, and in the waiting for Susanna to get better.

Let’s keep waiting and watching together.

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Resources: We watched this 2-minute video in church this last week and it got me thinking about advent again. Also, this post by Rachel Held Evans gave me some ideas that we will use this season.