Seven Good Things

It’s Sunday afternoon and I decide to go for a walk. All by myself. While the rest of my family plays a board game. I know, crazy isn’t it–going off on my own instead of spending quality time with my husband and children? But it gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view). I head to 7-11 and attempt to purchase a few chocolate bars before realizing I’d scooped up Mexican pesos from our change box. Because I don’t have enough Canadian currency for all the bars, I buy only one. The one I like best. On my way home I nibble slowly, face towards the sun, crunching on peanuts and sucking on caramel. I walk back and forth on my own block just so I can finish it before reaching home to dispose of the evidence. While the wrapper floats to the bottom of our garbage bin I slip in the back door and try to keep from smiling suspiciously.

***

The woman ahead of me in line watches while I nose my full cart into the cashier’s lane. It doesn’t take long before she meets my eye and launches into conversation.

“Did you hear about the baby that almost drowned? It was a car crash and the mother died but they found the baby, still strapped into its seat.”

I told her I hadn’t heard the story until now. Then she added, “It was alive,” as an afterthought. “How old is your baby?”

“Seven months.”

“Mmm… babies. So many things to worry about. Terrible things. The accidents that could happen… And then, when they get bigger–”

I’m not sure I want to hear more but I say, “It must get even harder as they get older.” I sense she’s just trying to make conversation, even though she sounds like a church bell ringing the death toll, because people do that. We say weird things, even offensive things, just because we’re clumsy at connecting.

Then the man in front of her jumps in and the next moment we’re not talking about tragedy anymore, but curling. The cashier gives her opinion on the Brier and the conversation veers again while the gentleman tells us exactly what he thinks about “those Albertans.” By the time I have my bags packed I feel like I’ve been at a local coffee shop. In the parking lot I see the man who was ahead of me in line and he waves and nods. Friendly places are like this, I think, where goodbyes are needed after standing in line with strangers at the grocery store.

***

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***

The meeting is getting long and there are no windows in the room. I’m wondering if the sun will still be shining by the time we leave when a man gets up to speak. At first I lean forward to pay attention and then I realize he’s not like “us”. Not normal. I try to appear engaged but inwardly I lose interest. His gestures are getting bigger now and he’s repeating his spiel for the fourth time. I look around the room and see some smiling patronizingly; others are starting to fidget. How long will they let this guy keep going? Who has the nerve to interrupt him? His words tumble out fast, like a train building momentum–unable to stop itself even if it wanted to. Then someone else clears his throat and without pausing starts speaking over the first guy. Immediately I feel uncomfortable, dreading the public awkwardness sure to follow. But it doesn’t. The new speaker directs his words to the one he just interrupted and they come like a long, cold drink of water. What you are saying is important. I understand you. We appreciate hearing this. Thank you for sharing. Everyone relaxes. Then we are clapping. A bit of grace.

***

These books:

  1. The Story-If you think the Bible is just for little girls in pretty dresses to carry under their arm on their way to Sunday School, read this. It’s all about bloodbaths, cowardly men and woman, feuding tribes, supernatural powers, and the ancient culture that still informs the lives of millions of us today. As I’ve read I’ve laughed aloud, cringed, and most of all, wanted to know more. Was Ruth’s heart pounding when she sneaked in to wake Boaz on the threshing floor? What exactly was Saul thinking while he cowered in the supplies closet to hide from those who wanted to crown him as king?
  2. Animal Dialogues-Beautiful essays that will make you want to trek in the wilderness for days on end.
  3. Bread of Angels-More Christian stuff that’s well-written enough you might enjoy it even if you’re not Christian. I’m reading it slowly, hoping I don’t reach the end of the book.

***

Before the girls leave for school they get the birthday chair ready for their dad. Presents are wrapped, balloons inflated, and seats are lined up so the audience can watch Stan’s expression as he opens each gift. He does not disappoint. The mushroom farm elicits smiles and curiosity; the pair of chopsticks, a bear hug; the four Coffee Crisps, many lavish thank-yous. It was just what they hoped for.

***

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A pleasant moment during a photo session in which I managed to bring at least two of my children to tears.

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Be well,

Tricia

 

Caramel Corn Recipe, DIY Fiddle hooks, and Susie

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Susanna (far right) with her classmates at her birthday party

Sometimes I think Susanna might be auditioning for the lead role in a play titled, When Children Push the Limits. Last week her acting was spot on, with fantastic physicality and larger-than-life facial expressions. In the end, she blew past all other contenders because of her impressive vocal strength and stamina. There were times during these “auditions” (aka altercations) when I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. Between deep breaths (in effort to control my own unpleasant, visceral impulses) I actually had to suppress a laugh or two, because of the hyperbole in her script.

Of course, we talked so she could listen and listened so she could talk* but she was on such a roll, nothing could distract her from her stage… until she decided she was going to step away from the bright lights, all on her own. When things settled, and she decided to withdraw her name from the casting list (for now) we discussed who the true Susanna really is. She is a girl with a thousand nick names and a belly laugh; a cuddler with sweet breath and soft cheeks; a curious observer of small details (she makes her daddy proud); a baby lover and animal avoider; a cupcake baker and mushroom hater; a favourite with the elderly and her teachers; a speedy reader; and a sucker for silliness.

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Five different families in this bunch, and at least 6 different languages!

A rare moment going through the corn maze: an adult (Stan) at the front of the pack of kids

A rare moment going through the corn maze: an adult (Stan) at the front of the pack of kids

Our best Susanna makes life so much more liveable around here. We can rely on her to drop whatever she’s doing (if she’s not in one of her aforementioned auditions) whenever I start reading a book out loud, or playing my violin. In the latter case, all I have to do is sound a few notes and she’ll leave her dolls, or conversation, mid-sentence and move towards her fiddle, reaching for it as if in a trance. This works particularly well with a rousing jig, although classical Minuets still do the trick. A quick way to get her really wound up is to listen to the Orange Blossom Special, or a tickle session with her Grandpa in Indiana.

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No more tripping over instruments around here! Stan made these innovative hooks to hang our fiddles from our bar. He attached two more to the sides of our piano for the guitars.

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A few days ago, Susie (or Shoshanna, Shoshie, Shoshapaloze, Zanzabar, Suza) turned seven. And, I have to admit, with all the acting around here, I wasn’t sure the real Susanna was going to show up for the party. Much to our relief, she did, and we all had a great time running through corn stalks, burning marshmallows, and getting lost. One of the highlights, for Susanna, was doling out the treat bags. (Yes, our best Susanna was in the house!) She’d made the most buttery, perfectly sweet, caramel corn–with a little help from the rest of us. So if you’ve read through all our family details just to get to this recipe, you’ve arrived. Here it is:

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Caramel Popcorn for Fall Parties (adapted from my Auntie Millie’s recipe)

  • a bunch of popped popcorn (2 cups unpopped kernels)
  • some peanuts (optional)
  • 2 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 c light corn syrup
  • 1 1/4-ish cups butter
  • 1/2 or 3/4 tsp tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Pop the corn, add peanuts, and place dry mix in two large bowls. Melt butter, syrup and sugar on low heat, and let boil for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove caramel from heat and add soda and vanilla. Pour over popcorn/peanuts, stirring for good coverage. Spread popcorn onto a couple baking sheets and let dry before packing into treat bags.

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All this drama could get me good and worried about my little girl. Does she have a chemical imbalance? Has something terrible happened to her in a dark closet that I don’t know about? What can I expect in ten years from now if we’re struggling already? But then I remember that she was just 6 last week, and now she’s learning how to be 7. And being the best person you can be, at 7, takes work. I guess it’s about as hard as it is for some thirty-six year olds I know.**

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Enjoy the rest of your week,

Tricia

*Have you read the book? Why don’t these strategies actually work when you need them?

**This weekend we decided our whole family needs to memorize this verse from the Bible: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I suggested each one of us pick a “fruit” to concentrate on for the following week. “Why don’t we all share the one we want to work on so we can encourage each other?” I said.

Both Stan and I noticed Susanna’s finger tracking the first few attributes and I interrupted her as she was about to announce her choice, “I think you’ve got love covered, and certainly, joy. How about…”

Self-control?” she finished, to our relief.

“Yes, that’s a great choice, Susanna. I’ll pick patience,” I said.

Belén remarked pointedly, “I was hoping you’d say that, Mom.”

Mmm… it appears we all need help with something.

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What happened during Lent

We’re eating Easter dinner when Uncle Ken looks across the table and asks me a question.

“So Tricia, I was wondering how your decision to give up the internet until noon went?”

I pass the pile of mashed potatoes to my right and wonder how I should answer. I’m glad he’s asked the question (it means someone else besides my mother has been reading my blog) and that he’s sincerely interested, but I’m not entirely happy with my answer. I would love to humbly describe how consistent and disciplined I was through Lent; how I blazed through all 40 days with unwavering commitment. Instead I fumble awkwardly saying something like I tried my best and I made it most of the time to 10:30 am without checking my email or blog…

As far as strictly observing lent, I failed. But in spite of my weak resolve, or maybe because of my weak resolve, I learned a few things. Perhaps failing is the point of Lent.

I learned that my impulse to reach for the mouse and hear the clacking of the keyboard is stronger than I thought it was.

I learned that checking emails isn’t as life changing as I think it will be. The mornings I spent at home writing were the worst. Checking my clock every ten minutes to see if I could finally open my email built anticipation with every passing moment. When the time finally came I would eagerly type my password only to be greeted with subject lines that read Don’t miss the next West Jet promotion! or Your inbox is 99% full. In a slump of disappointment I would close it and wonder what I had been waiting for in the first place. What kind of news was I hoping to find? How fulfilling could a digital message be?

I learned that starting my day with stillness instead of search engines makes a difference. Like re-setting a cheap watch or tuning a violin, my perspective seems to need frequent upkeep. If I let it go unchecked everything starts to spiral inwards until all I can think about is the little universe of Tricia: the salsa fermenting in my cupboard, the next job I have at school, our summer plans, the unwritten chapter of my book, who I will invite for supper, the shirt I need to buy for my daughter… The more my world shrinks, the more suffocated I feel. But it’s a drowsy suffocation; like sucking in fumes inside a closed garage.

Somehow being still and reading the story of Jesus or prophecies told to a tribe in the Middle East provides release. It opens the garage door a little. Before I am totally inebriated with myself I read a verse, pray for someone, or sit quietly to listen and my narrow world of self begins to expand. It’s a slow, creaky process and not nearly as dramatic as I would like. But it’s a start. A crack to let in the Light and fresh air. I read the following passage yesterday, and I think it helps to explain what I’m trying to say.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you have have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the riches of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live
(Isaiah 55 1-3)

Thanks for asking the question Ken…

Tricia

PS. Here are more pictures of our week with family in Indiana:

Grandma taught both girls how to sew on their own!

Grandma taught both girls how to sew on their own!

...and they actually produced wearable skirts (with a little extra help)

They actually produced wearable skirts (with a little extra help)

Susie, me, and Belén (with her homemade skirt) rollerskating. We decided tying roller skates was much better than freezing our fingers at the outdoor rinks where we live.

Susie, me, and Belén (with her homemade skirt) rollerskating. We decided tying roller skates was much better than freezing our fingers at the outdoor rinks where we live.

Belén, cousin Simon, and Aunty Anne working on the eggs

Belén, cousin Simon (pondering the meaning of life), and Aunty Anne working on the eggs

Easter eggs, decorated with white crayon before getting dipped in colour.

Susanna’s favourite moment with cousin Lucy

Aunty Anne finally gets a chance to hold her own baby!

And of course, cutting wood…

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Grandpa going strong!

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Good Words: Our Real Stories

I wish I had been in Nairobi, Kenya, a few Sundays ago to hear my friend, Kirsten, deliver her homily.

I knew she had been invited to speak at a church service, so I emailed her yesterday to ask how it went.  She attached the homily she had written with her email response.  I opened it up and soon after I started reading, looked at the little square that slides down the right side of my computer screen, to gauge how much I had left to read.  I was hoping there would be much more and didn’t want it to end any too soon!

Near the beginning of her text, she included this quote from Frederick Buechner:

“…we may tell stories about ourselves as well about other people, but not, for the most part,

our real stories,

not stories about what lies beneath all our other problems,

which is the problem of being human, the problem of trying to hold fast somehow to Christ when much of the time, both in ourselves and in our world, it is as if Christ had never existed.

…[we] tell what costs us the least to tell and what will gain [us] the most; and to tell the story of who we really are

and the battle between light and dark, between belief and unbelief, between sin and grace that is waged within us

all costs plenty

and may not gain us anything, we’re afraid, but an uneasy silence and a fishy stare.”

You can read more here.  I just ordered the book from my library!

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!

Good Words: The problem with an easy life

I’m afraid to blog about God.  There are a couple reasons for this, and it belongs in another post, but when I read the following this week, it really struck me.  And, if there’s one thing I’m comfortable with in my faith, it’s all the reversals; the weak being strong stuff.

(Written as God speaking in first person)

“Expect to encounter adversity in your life…

The main problem with an easy life is that it masks your need for Me…

Anticipate coming face to face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle.  This awareness of your inadequacy is not something you should try to evade.  It is precisely where I want you–the best place to encounter Me in My Glory and Power.”

Sarah Young wrote this inspired by (at least) two verses in the bible, Revelation 19:1 and Psalm 91:1

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!