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“I don’t want the brightness to slowly leak out of me because I settled for the dulling effects of a life without play.”
- Andi Ashworth
Craving some fun recently, I embarked on a course in Travel Writing. I’ve been absolutely LOVING it! My instructor, Olivia Stren, is a doll – supremely talented – and full of the sheer joy of living and encouragement for whatever bits of talent she sees in others. The opportunity to sit for a couple of hours each week and study the words of people who’ve mastered the written word – has been just exactly what I needed.
This week’s homework was to write a short “Service” piece; a sassy, playful article that describes a hotel, restaurant, etc. for the benefit of folks who might go there.
Desperately in need of some one-on-one time and a break from our routines, my husband and I this morning played hooky from church and sought out a new cafe or coffee shop that might serve a dual purpose, to provide a date for us and a source of inspiration for my most recent class assignment.
Here’s what resulted:
“A touch of le Bonheur”
Yearning for a taste of Paris, but can’t afford the airfare? Head to The Crepe Kitchen (88 Dunn Street, Oakville, Ontario www.thecrepekitchen.ca) where the crepes are reasonably priced ($7 to $14) and as délicieux as any you might sample in the City of Light.
The Kitchen is tiny – seats only 30 – but the atmosphere is inviting with whimsical charm; from the working cuckoo clock just inside the door to the mismatched, antique wooden furniture. Peruvian owner-operators Eduardo and Ana Siles literally “thank God” for making this place – and their dream of it – come true; living out their gratitude in warm hospitality and a willingness to share their story with anyone curious enough to ask.
Ana is a trained Cordon-Bleu chef, and the open kitchen permits guests to marvel at her skill with a flat spatula, folding a crepe over a broad choice of fillings either sweet (berries, Nutella or Dulce de leche – a thick, caramel cream adored by South Americans) or savoury (mushrooms, chorizo sausage, spinach or cheese). Coffee – an organic Peruvian blend – is served in a French Press allowing for second cups on indulgent Sunday mornings.
But if you visit on a Sunday, be forewarned: street parking is limited, as it fills with the cars of those seeking a different sort of sustenance – at the historic church across the road.
Persnickety parking aside, the ringing of the church bells and the Kitchen’s picture window – which offers an ideal opportunity for people watching – provide café patrons with a touch of le Bonheur, right here at home.
Even Mother Nature decided to celebrate moving day in Kingston.
I use the term “moving day” loosely. No one sent a memo. No official writ was dropped declaring Saturday April 30 as the day by which the entire city – or at least the entire student population of the city – must move. But move they all did, or rather, they all appeared to.
Throughout the area known affectionately by locals as “The Ghetto” (street after street of rundown houses with crumbling walkways, overgrown shrubs and crooked porches that surround the Queen’s University campus) every available parking spot – and then some – was occupied by vans or trucks or cars towing open box trailers.
Longhaired girls in short shorts and flip-flops, flip-flopped their way down sidewalks two-by-two, under burdens of tables and mattresses. Boys dressed in jeans and t-shirts flexed biceps while hoisting desks and bookshelves into U-Hauls. And middle-aged parents with put-on patience helped transport sons and daughters out of one phase of life and into another.
We were moving our oldest daughter out of her third-year abode – with its four roommates and more drama than our Drama major cared to endure – and into her final year home – with its one roommate and promise of peace.
And throughout it all, the sun shone and the air warmed and the birds sang and the sky turned the most beautiful shade of robin’s egg blue, delivering the first really spring-like day since spring had arrived more than a month earlier. It was as if the weather itself had chosen to cooperate, foretelling the brightest of futures.
“Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.”
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Yesterday marked the third Sunday of Advent, and at church in the morning the Advent readings focussed on the theme of “joy.”
That theme was reinforced – later in the day – in two ways for me. Last evening, the children’s Sunday School pageant was an occasion of much joy – as we watched the little ones and young people present their take on the real meaning of Christmas. Then, after the concert, as church family and friends gathered for cookies and tea, I spoke with a beautiful friend who is two-thirds of the way through chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Her radiant smile and calm demeanor testified to the truth of her words: “God has been with me,” she said. “Every step of the way.”
Since then, I’ve been mulling over what real joy is to me, and I’ve concluded that Robert Schuller is right. “Joy,” he observed, “is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.”
I think this video – which proclaims “Glory to God in the highest!” typifies that emotion beautifully.
“When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.”
- Saint Augustine
Here’s something a little different, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I did; a collection of Christmas classics played on nothing but iPads!
May those of us who have Christmas preparations this weekend take pleasure in them, and count them as the blessing that they are!
(And if that sounds a wee bit like positive self-talk, well, it is!)
“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”
- W.T. Ellis
Confession time: I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of months, and as that number looms so does the realization that I’ve long since passed my physical “best before” date. It truly is all downhill from here. The best I can hope for is to slow the inevitable decline.
I want to slow it. I’ve had the blessing of knowing what it feels like to be in great physical condition – I was a passionate runner throughout high school – and I also know what it feels like when my body gets soft, squishy and lazy. I much prefer the former feeling; unfortunately it takes work – hard work – as well as time, and plenty of it.
But an approaching milestone birthday can be an incentive-generating thing, and so a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me to consider joining her at Boot Camp I didn’t have to think long about it.
It’s been brutal. Honestly. Now in our sixth week of a ten-week camp, there hasn’t been a single workout I haven’t dreaded beforehand, groaned throughout, collapsed after, or, felt thoroughly proud of myself for completing.
Last night, as I was plodding along on the longest run I’ve run in years, my breathing fell into a lovely rhythm and I surprised myself by feeling better than I thought I had the right to. And then I remembered the feelings of elation that came the last time I worked so hard to get my body into shape, when I trained for and ran a half-marathon.
That was 8 years ago. It was a life-changing experience. I loved every kilometre. But after completing it I vowed one was enough and I’d never do another. So the day after the event, I sat down and penned 25 things I had learned from the experience.
If you’re thinking about getting your body into shape, perhaps some of the thoughts below will help to inspire you!
25 Things I Have Learned From Training For A Half-Marathon
- I can do something significant that mere months ago I would have thought impossible.
- The sound of snail shells crackling underfoot as I run on a spring morning can induce guilt – but not enough to make me stop running.
- It’s more fun to run with someone to talk to.
- I can talk while I run!
- As spring turns to summer, snails disappear only to be replaced by leaping grasshoppers.
- Having strangers cheer for you at a finish line feels astonishingly good. Having family and friends there to cheer feels even better.
- My coach and Woody Allen are right – 80% of success is just “showing up.”
- When sweat drips into your eyes, it stings.
- It’s easier to get out of bed for my morning run if I’ve laid out my running clothes the night before.
- My husband’s admiring glances and compliments at my newly toned runner’s body make all the miles and sweat and pain worthwhile.
- A foot massage never feels as good as it does after a 15K run, except maybe after a 20K run.
- Gatorade can taste delicious!
- Nothing can compare to the feeling of running 21K in middle age – and passing a teenager as I approach the finish line.
- I am happier, healthier, less stressed and more positive about life in general when I’m physically active than when I’m a couch potato.
- When my skin feels like sandpaper after a long run – it’s because of the salt left behind after the perspiration has evaporated! Amazing!
- Stars never looked so beautiful as during a 6 a.m. run on a crisp, clear October morning.
- My husband and kids are not only supportive, they’re proud of me!
- It really is important to drink lots of water.
- Running on trails – along meandering paths, through leafy forests and alongside graceful streams – is like candy for the soul.
- Endorphins are one of God’s better ideas.
- I can run in the heat without fainting, in the rain without shrinking, in the cold without freezing and for (at least) 13 miles without keeling over!
- There really are enough hours in the day! I can accomplish more when I’m fit than I ever would have had the energy to accomplish when I’m not.
- Completing a race in my 40s can be just as exhilarating as winning a race at 17.
- Runners are nice people.
- I can run! When I consider all those in the world who physically cannot, I recognize that I am blessed. And I find myself praying, “thank you God!” with every step.
“If you die having prayed to no god, any god, one expressed above an altar or one painted with a brush, then you risk wasting the soul you were given. Repent! Repent!”
- Yann Martel
I love the thought behind these words penned by Canadian author Yann Martel. (To read them in their context, go here.) And while I might disagree somewhat with Martel’s theology, I also love the larger idea he discusses in that context – of the importance of stillness in our lives. The critical need to achieve stillness on a regular basis is a reality I recognized in my own life years ago and one I strive for – no – chase after, even fight for, daily.
“Be still and know that I am God,” writes the psalmist in Psalm 46, as if the two things – being still and knowing God – are inextricably meshed. And that’s certainly been my experience. It’s only as I’ve taken the time and carved out the quiet spaces for stillness that I’ve found God – or maybe – that He’s found me. And whether it’s been through reading or meditation, art, music or quieting my soul while out-of-doors, thinking deeply only happens for me in those places of stillness.
I love many of the other words and ideas I’ve read in the letters Martel has posted to this site. And while I’ve only read a fraction of his book suggestions, it seems a thoughtful selection he’s compiling – so I hope to use it as a reference for finding new reading material in future.
Perhaps you’d like to do the same!
“We write to breathe, to know we’re alive, and to matter to the world we write for.” - Rikki Ratliff
Rikki’s a friend, a colleague and a fellow writer. She’s in the midst of the experience of a lifetime, pursuing the one thing in this life – writing – that most consistently makes her soul sing. But she’s doing it on the other side of the globe, far away from every obligation built into her every day here. She’s doing it, to give her writer’s heart the space it’s been craving to fill up with new vistas, people and experiences, to expand and overflow.
The overflow has splashed out on to paper with ink – as writers’ hearts do – and this morning, she sent me a sample of the spillage. Her words above, were among the droplets that filled my heart this morning, and set it to overflowing here.
.. even when they grow up!
My eldest daughter, Stephanie, sent me an email yesterday, with the first sentence of a required reading for her (second year university) Literary Criticism class. After that first sentence, Stephanie wrote just one sentence of her own.
Following is the complete text of her email:
“‘In the face of the possibility that the intellectual is complicit in the persistent constitution of the Other as the Self’s shadow, a possibility of political practice for the intellectual would be to put the economic “under erasure,” to see the economic factor as irreducible as it reinscribes the social text, even as it is erased, however imperfectly, when it claims to be the final determinant or the transcendental signified.’
THIS is why I hate school right now.”
And that email is just one more reason I love my kids.
It’s an honest photo. Embarrassingly honest.
I undertook no tidying, dusting or rearranging before snapping it. So don’t look too closely.
It holds: a bedside lamp, a baby photo of my son Mark, a yellow highlighter, the case for my reading glasses (the glasses are elsewhere at the moment), a steno pad for making notes, a handcrafted, personalized bookmark created for me by a favourite client, a photocopied recipe for spinach and ricotta stuffed chicken breasts and 11 birthday cards from my most recent birthday, tucked inside the front cover of a book.
As for books, the surface of my night table also supports:
- The Christian Imagination: The Pratice of Faith in Literature and Writing by Leland Ryken, editor; a favourite book of mine for almost a decade, it contains a series of essays by great Christian writers and thinkers like C. S. Lewis, Luci Shaw, Francis Schaeffer, Annie Dillard and Madeleine L’Engle. It’s filled with wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking quotes like, “God made man because he loves stories.” – Elie Wiesel
- Let The Great World Spin, a novel by Colum McCann (a birthday gift from my son Mark that I have yet to really begin, but I’ve read the first couple of pages and can’t bear to file it on my book shelves until I get to it.)
- The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine by a Greek Christian writer named Eusebius who lived from A.D. 260 – 339. Of course, I’m reading a translated version. It’s a book I first read 12 or 15 years ago and grabbed recently to check a fact, but wound up deciding to reread it.
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I’ve had this book for five years or more, and don’t think I’ve ever read it cover to cover. It suits me more to snack on it, a chapter here, a chapter there.)
- Good To A Fault, a novel by Marina Endicott (I heard about this one through CBC’s Canada Reads contest)
- Unaccustomed Earth, a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (a birthday present from my daughter Stephanie, which I also have yet to really begin and also can’t bear to file.)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler (1952 edition, which I’m reading to Jenna).
- The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are by Norman Podhoretz (a book on loan from my mom.)
Unless I’m on holiday (away at our trailer where I find it easy to dive deeply into a book and – in almost one breath – swim through its depths) I seem incapable of limiting myself to reading only one at a time. So, for obvious reasons, it takes me a while to finish most books these days.
But yesterday, I managed to do just that. I finally polished off a book I’d been reading since Christmas cleverly called Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers by Harry Bruce. It was a gift from my kids.
Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson appropriately describes it as ”a writer’s book about writing.” I loved it, revelling in its descriptions of the habits and eccentricities of writers throughout history, and in such tid-bitty treasures as this; once upon a time, “every writer owned a special knife to turn feathers into pens (hence, ‘penknife’).”
Finishing Page Fright, left me with that momentary swell of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes whenever I polish off a great book. And it lessened the load on my night table, making it one book lighter.
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.
- Arnold Lobel
It was such a beautiful, blue sky, sun shiny kind of day today, that Stephanie – who’s home for a long weekend – and I decided to go for a walk down by the Credit River at lunchtime.
The air was crisp, the breeze was gentle and the birds (yes the birds!) were singing.
We saw our first robin of the year and he was kind enough to pose for my camera.
We saw a pair of ducks – a “he-duck” and a “she-duck” body surfing in the river’s fast flowing current. Unfortunately, they were having too much fun to pause for a photo. (And truth be told, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it didn’t seem right to intrude on their “couple” time.)
We also saw an entire community of geese; some were hanging out on the ice enjoying one another’s company, some were paddling madly against the current, and others seemed to be taking delight in simply walking around making footprints in the snow.
With the exception of the company of the birds, Stephanie and I were alone on our walk.
Bearing private witness to the sights and sounds of a late winter’s day felt like a special privilege, and so came as much more than simply a welcomed break from my keyboard!
I really enjoy my children’s friends. Almost without exception, I find them to be funny, interesting people. And since they appreciate my kids, well, I appreciate them.
On a recent visit home, my eldest daughter Stephanie was silently reading email, when she suddenly laughed out loud. Of course I was curious as to why, so I asked, and she shared the contents of her friend’s note. It set me to laughing too, so I asked Steph if I might share it here. She checked with her friend, and they’ve both given their blessing.
Here is the original text:
“back when we were looking at condos there was a possibility of one on the 14th floor. well, my father informed me the ladders on fire trucks only reach 10 stories. so his plan was to take me to mountain equipment coop. and (oh yes, this happened) buy me ($600 worth of) mountain climbing gear. helmet, rope, body harness thing, the works. and then some wall climbing/ knot tying lessons. the purpose? so i could propel off the balcony and down the side of the building in the case of a fire. boing, boing, boing.”
Now that’s what I call a caring dad!
I love Mr. Bean! And this Christmas skit of his is one of my all time favourites. Enjoy!
One recent morning, while sharing a few quiet moments over coffee in the kitchen
My hubby: “You see – being married to a billion dollars is no guarantee of happiness.”
Me: ”Neither is being married to a Swedish bikini model.”
Got a minute-and-thirty-two seconds?
Then feast your eyes and ears on this: