Wednesday, December 28, 2011

my book list for 2011

Here's a list of the books I've read this year, with brief reviews and stars out of five. If you're looking for ideas of what to read (or not read), hope this list gives you some.


Alone in the Classroom (by Elizabeth Hay). The narrator, Anne, delves into the past to find out more about her aunt Connie, a teacher; Connie became entangled in a situation with a student she tutored, his doomed sister, and a disturbed, creepy principal. Anne’s own relationship with Connie’s former student leads her to more discoveries about Connie, the principal, and herself. This is an interesting book which for me raised more questions than it answered – yet I didn’t find that frustrating; it seemed to work. And Hay’s writing is beautiful. ***

Amy and Isabelle (by Elizabeth Strout) explores the difficult relationship between an embittered single mother and her teenage daughter. ***** (Strout has become one of my favourite writers: her novel Abide With Me is also excellent.)

As We Are Now (by May Sarton). I stumbled on this unusual little book while browsing through the library. It is a very well-written but depressing short novel about an elderly woman in a run-down nursing home, desperately seeking some beauty or kindness to make her final days meaningful. ***

Come, Thou Tortoise (by Jessica Grant) is the quirkiest and funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. Audrey (aka Oddly) Flowers travels from Oregon back home to Newfoundland when she finds out her father is in a “comma oops I mean coma.” This crisis forces her to face the truth about her grandmother, her father’s best friend (whom she mistrusts), and her beloved Uncle Thoby. Audrey shares the first-person narrative duties in this book with her tortoise, Winnifred. *****

Faith (by Jennifer Haigh) is about a Boston priest accused of child molestation. The narrator is the priest’s sister, who is seeking the truth about the charges and about her brother’s complicated relationship with a young single mother. ****

Housekeeping (by Marilynne Robinson). Orphaned sisters Ruth (the narrator) and Lucille are cared for by a series of reluctant relatives until their homeless aunt Sylvie moves in. The sisters’ responses to their aunt’s eccentric caregiving are very different; in the end there may be only one way Ruth can avoid being separated from Sylvie. Robinson’s prose and her depiction of characters are amazing, though I confess that some of the reflective parts of the novel went over my head. **** (By the way, Robinson’s novels Gilead and Home are both wonderful. They explore the same situation – the relationship between a dying minister, his best friend, his dutiful daughter, and his prodigal son – from two different perspectives.)

Nightwoods (by Charles Frazier). Luce is living quietly in an abandoned hotel in the North Carolina woods with the children of her murdered sister. When the deceased hotel owner’s grandson, Stubblefield, comes to see his inherited property, Luce’s belief that you can’t count on anyone is challenged. Eventually the murderer appears too, looking for some lost money that he thinks Luce has. Luce and Stubblefield must work together to protect the children and confront the killer. There is violence in this novel, but it’s secondary to Frazier’s exploration of the characters’ motives (he takes us into the heads of all the main characters) and to his depiction of the Appalachian setting. There’s no neat-and-clean justice here, but the ending is satisfying and the story is absolutely riveting. *****

Olive Kitteridge (by Elizabeth Strout) is a collection of interconnected stories about the lives of people in a small Maine town. Olive is a crusty retired schoolteacher who appears in every story – sometimes as main character, sometimes as only a minor figure. At first she seems thoroughly unlikable, but gradually we come to sympathize with her. ****

People of the Book (by Geraldine Brooks) is a huge, sweeping novel about a Jewish haggadah (family prayer book) and its journey across the centuries from medieval Spain to 21st-century Sarajevo. The thread tying the narrative together is the story of Hanna, an Australian rare-book restorer who examines the haggadah. I found Hanna’s story less interesting and compelling than the various historical sections of the novel, which are full of rich detail about the different time periods and places. The novel as a whole shows how religion has been both a dividing and (occasionally) unifying force throughout the centuries. ***

Still Alice (by Lisa Genova) is about a brilliant psychology professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. To me it isn’t great literature, but it certainly details many facts about the disease and examines how it affects not only the sufferer but family and friends. ***

Summer of the Bear (by Bella Pollen). A London woman flees with her three children to her home village on a remote Scottish island after her husband, a spy, dies in mysterious circumstances. For me, the mystery part (involving Cold-War intrigue and nuclear proliferation) was a bit of a fizzle, but what is really interesting is Pollen’s portrayal of the four family members’ expressions of grief. ****

The Center of Everything (by Laura Moriarty) is one of the best books I read this year. Young Evelyn sees the world as black-and-white: she accepts her religious grandmother’s view of life and scorns the foibles of her struggling single mom. But as she matures and gains more life experience (first love, friendship, a handicapped brother), she realizes that the world is much more complicated than she thought – and that her mother may in fact know a bit more about right and wrong than Evelyn gave her credit for. *****

The Help (by Kathryn Stockett) uses the voices of three women (black maids Aibileen and Minny and wealthy white girl Skeeter) to depict race relations in 1960’s Mississippi. Skeeter enlists Aibileen’s and Minny’s help to write a book about black maids, a risky project that leads all three women to new understanding and decisions. I found the ending a bit facile, but the voices of the three women are very well conveyed, and the story as a whole is touching, funny, and uplifting. ****

The Reinvention of Love (by Helen Humphreys) explores the love triangle between Victor Hugo, his wife, and his friend. This novel contains some examples of Humphreys’ lovely prose, but I didn’t find myself moved by or drawn into the love story. **


A Jane Austen Education (by William Deresiewicz) tells of how the author learned about love, family, and himself by reading (reluctantly at first) the Austen novels. What affects him most about each novel may not always be what we would consider the highlight, but that makes it all the more interesting to read. ****

Falling Upward (by Richard Rohr). Rohr’s argument is that our lives can be divided into two distinct halves. In the first half we are focused on the “container” of our life: establishing our beliefs, career, family, etc. In the second half, which may often be precipitated by a life crisis that our first-half answers aren’t sufficient to address, we focus on the “contents” of our life and (it is hoped) come to a deeper, more loving, and more accepting approach to ourselves, others, and God. ****

Life With Sudden Death (by Michael Downing). At 45, novelist-playwright Downing discovered he had the same genetic heart defect that led to the sudden but uninvestigated deaths of his father and brother. The book details how Downing navigated the medical system, came to terms with his family dynamics, and learned to trust his own version of his life story. ***

May Sarton: A Biography (by Margot Peters). Having read a novel by Sarton (see above), I thought I would read this biography, particularly since it was written by the same person who wrote the Charlotte Bronte bio (below). I can’t say I “enjoyed” this book, but it was fascinating -- in a train-wreck sort of way -- to read about a person whose childhood insecurities led her to be completely narcissistic, controlling, and obsessive. Sarton left many hurt people in her wake and never really found the critical acclaim or love she craved. A sad story of a sad person. **

Twelve by Twelve (by William Powers). Burned-out by his work in activism and global development, Powers spends four months living in 12’x12’ house owned by a wise doctor who is attempting to live a sustainable life (and who is protesting against the American government by living in a house too small to require property tax!). I thoroughly enjoyed Powers’ honest reflections on the American dream, race, big business, nature, and mindfulness. *****

Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Bronte (by Margot Peters). I had never read the full Bronte story, and I really enjoyed this detailed description of her and her sisters’ tragic yet fascinating lives. ****


I hope you enjoyed these mini-reviews. Next on my to-read list: Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo.

I’d love to know what you’re reading too. Half the fun of reading a book is sharing it!

cousins at Christmas

We had a nice time at Richard's mom's on Boxing Day with her and the Napanee Prinsens and Uncle Ed. Here are Corey, Josh, and Jonathan hanging out.

Jonathan checks out which cousin is most comfortable to lie on top of, and chooses Luke.

Littlest and biggest Prinsen cousins - Jonathan and Josh.

Cara and Allison -- 2 beautiful girls!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the (Christmas) play's the thing

Not to be outdone by his sister, Jonathan performed in a play last night too: the Christmas play at Friendship Group (aka Circle of Friends) at Westside Fellowship Church. Jonathan was a shepherd, and a very affectionate one at that -- he and Mary and the Baby really clicked! :-)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

death by Macbeth, times two

They say you only live once, but apparently you can die twice. This past Tuesday, Allison's gr. 8 Challenge class at Calvin Park P.S. performed "Macbeth." Allison had 2 small roles (Macduff's son and Young Siward), both of which involved her being stabbed to death onstage. In one case she was dragged offstage by her feet! The whole class did an amazing job, considering they only had about a month to prepare.

I think what really struck me was how much of a "high" Allison was on after the performance. She was absolutely beaming onstage at the curtain call, and just walking on air for about an hour afterward (despite dying twice). It's neat (and a bit surprising) to see how much pleasure she gets out of acting -- this is definitely something she should pursue as she goes on in school.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

good friend

On Saturday I took Jonathan to his Extend-a-Family Saturday program. Allison, who came with me, also met up with one of her friends from Quintilian Social Club -- a high-school girl with special needs. The girl's mom was with her and raved about what a nice girl Allison was, what a good friend Allison was to M., how she'd love to have Allison over to their house, etc. That really made me proud as a mom. It is one thing to have your child praised for accomplishments, but it is even more special to have someone say "Your daughter is a good friend." Allison does not really see handicaps or judge that anyone is better than anyone else. And that's a great gift.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

sure shot

So proud of Jonathan today! His teacher said that his class (gr 4/5) was playing basketball in the gym during phys-ed. Unfortunately for the last year or so Jonathan has had a phobia of the gym which is sad because he used to love the gym so much and his fear really hinders the enjoyment he derives from all things ball-related. But today he ventured away from the sidelines a bit, so the teacher told the other students to let him participate if he wanted. A classmate threw him the ball and he immediately sunk a basket. The class went wild!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

rocker chick

Last night Allison's social club had a Halloween party. She went dressed as a rocker chick complete with tattoos and a spike bracelet.

Jonathan is in the background wondering who the heck this person is!

urban poling is great!

I've recently taken up urban poling (also known as Nordic walking). I've been going to a class every Tuesday at noon for the past few weeks. It's a great activity: I love walking but this ups the fitness element quite a bit. Yesterday we took a walk starting at Fort Henry -- Rich came along to go for a run and I asked him to take our picture before we set out. Left to Right: Kari (instructor), me, Bianca, Dolores, and Rita.

Monday, October 10, 2011

beautiful weekend

We have had the most beautiful Thanksgiving weekend in recent memory -- warm & sunny for several days in a row.

On Saturday, Jonathan went to Extend-a-Family camp for the day, so Rich and Allison and I went out for coffee at Tims and then for a walk at Lemoine's Pt Conservation Area. Here are a few photos from our outing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

boy meets dentist

Last week Jonathan got his first-ever tooth filling. He's had a few basic cleanings at a dental hygienist's office but this was his first filling. He had the dentist & dental assistant at his head, another staff member holding one hand, Rich holding the other, and me holding his feet!

Of course he totally played the "cute" card: he couldn't peekaboo with his hands so he squeezed his eyes tight shut & said "Where's Jonathan?" He did amazingly well & she got the procedure done in minutes.

What's amazing is that the dentist scooped out the cavity and filled it with no freezing or anything. Wow. Dentistry has come a long way since the days of screaming and pain. (The patients in those days were often traumatized as well.)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Nine's neat

Jonathan is nine today! Hard to believe he's in his last year of single digits. He got 2 new puzzles, 2 new balls, and a new placemat with his name on it. We'll also be having yummy chocolate cupcakes for dessert at supper, so he'll be a happy guy.

As challenging as Jonathan can be at times, he is for the most part a pretty happy person and he has a knack of making others happy too. At church, he usually says a big loud Amen after the offering prayer; he likes this time because after offering he goes down to Sunday School. This past Sunday the woman leading the service said "Now I'll ask the ushers to come forward for the offering" -- and Jonathan let out a huge, enthusiastic "Yeah!!!" Everyone laughed, and the leader said, "Now that's a cheerful giver."

Happy Birthday Jon-Jon!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Prince Edward Island re-re-visited

I didn't expect to make 2 trips to PEI this summer, but that's what happened. While July was mostly a quiet month with Jonathan and Allison at day camps and lots of leisurely days to hang out and enjoy the heat, the second half of the summer was very hectic.

On Friday, July 29, my Aunt Jean in PEI passed away at 71 years of age. She had gone into hospital on Easter weekend for surgery for a mass in her colon. Her recovery was very slow; she spent several weeks in hospital. When she finally got out and moved to my cousin (her older daughter) Barb's house to recuperate, things seemed to be looking up. But she was soon back in hospital with severe pain and what turned out to be more extensive cancer, and it soon became clear that it was a palliative situation. She had 10 days of radiation treatment in the hospital in Charlottetown and then returned to the hospital in Summerside (where she'd had her original surgery); she never returned home.

Aunt Jean, after whom I was named, was my dad's sister and the baby of the family. She was a wonderful person: so outgoing, enthusiastic, and loving. She was funny without trying to be: Rich and I still laugh about playing crokinole with her and her constantly jumping in and shooting out of turn; and about her turning to her husband, my uncle John, and, in all seriousness, saying, "John, what's the name of that stuff we're taking for our memory?" When we were kids we loved visiting her house and having her family visit us, and after Rich & I had kids we would never see her on our PEI trips without her handing me a bag with something in it for them: balls, puzzles, stuffed animals, books.

It was so sad and unbelievable to hear that she had died. Last July Uncle John died after a long illness and it was very sad for her to lose him -- but now she was making plans to sell their house in Charlottetown and move closer to her daughters Barb and Lorna and her four grandkids. She had so much to look forward to and it is so sad that none of that is going to happen. The morning I heard she had died we had a huge rainstorm here and as I wandered around the house listening to the rain pounding on the roof and watching it pour down the street, I felt such a sense of loss. But it didn't really hit me until I went to the funeral home website that night and saw her picture and all the information about her upcoming funeral and I realized, "It's over; I'll never see my Aunt Jean again." Then the tears came.

This was Friday, July 29, and Rich & I were already planning to leave for our vacation in PEI on Sunday, August 7. We spent most of the weekend trying to figure out if it was possible for me to go to the funeral, whether we should try to leave early for our trip, etc. But the funeral was on Monday August 1 and we just couldn't manage to leave as a family that quickly. In my head it seemed impossible and ridiculous to make two trips, but in my heart I just so wanted to be there if it was at all possible.

Finally Alan confirmed that he was going to drive there from London on Sunday with his daughter Sadie (Genevieve couldn't come because she'd hurt her back), so I decided to go with him and then fly back to Montreal Tuesday and take the train home. That meant a very hectic Saturday because we had a family gathering planned at our house and didn't want to cancel any of that. We had a great day with the Prinsen gang and everyone was so helpful and supportive, even helping me book my plane and train tickets online, which I'd never done before. After getting myself as organized as possible and getting things in order for Rich to manage the kids, meals, etc., I crashed at midnight, and then got up at 6 to be ready for when Alan came to pick me up. It was a long day of driving on Sunday (we left Kingston 8 a.m. and reached Mom & Dad's at 12:30 a.m. on Monday), but we arrived safely.

I felt so blessed to be able to be there for my aunt's funeral and to see her daughters, their husbands and kids, and many other relatives. The funeral service was beautiful; however, for those who had attended my uncle John's funeral almost exactly a year ago (which I had not), there was a strange and sad sense of deja vu, since the two funerals took place in the same location, the same two ministers officiated, the burial was at the same cemetery, and the reception was in the same church. Several people said, "Who would have thought a year ago that we would be at Jean's funeral?" I guess it's good that we don't have the power of seeing too far into the future.

I was privileged to read Scripture at the funeral, though this provided a bit of somewhat humorous mystery. Apparently my aunt Jean had written down Proverbs 19 as a Scripture to be read -- but it didn't seem to be a really appropriate reading for her funeral. It was a mix of various sayings about "a man's folly," "false witnesses," poor men being shunned by their friends, corrupt witnesses, sluggards, etc. -- there really wasn't much that you could take out and apply to a funeral or much that I could imagine my aunt finding comfort from. But in the end it didn't really matter. After discussing it with the ministers and with Jean's daughter Barb, we settled instead on having me read the "virtuous woman" passage from Prov. 31. Obviously Aunt Jean never would have picked it for herself, but it seemed totally appropriate because she was such an industrious, vigorous, admirable person. When I read the words "Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gates," I felt they applied perfectly to my aunt and I felt honoured to be able to read them at the service.

All in all it was such a blessing to be there and I was and am so thankful that it worked out. It seemed strange to leave the next day already, but because we were planning to leave for PEI in just 5 more days, it was not so difficult to say goodbye. I took a 1 p.m. flight from Charlottetown to Halifax and settled down to wait for my 3:30 flight to Montreal. The latter flight was quite bumpy (and I'm not the most relaxed flyer at the best of times); the captain said the turbulence was due to some electrical storms. Only later did I find out that there was a huge lightning storm in Halifax later that evening; many planes were stranded on the runway and hundreds of people left to wait out the storm in the airport overnight. Needless to say I was very glad to have gotten out of Halifax in time to avoid all that.

I landed at the airport in Montreal just after 4 local time and took a shuttle to the VIA station. Since I had over an hour to fill, I walked to the Best Western Motel nearby and had a relaxing, quiet supper in the restaurant there. My train left right on time and I reached Kingston a few minutes before 9 p.m. and took a taxi home. There was no one home but I knew Rich had taken the kids to Audrey's so that he could go play his soccer game, so I wasn't worried. But when I checked phone messages, all that changed: Rich had called from Hotel Dieu emergency dep't to say he'd injured his shoulder in the game and needed me to pick up the kids. So I had to call the taxi co. again and go out to Audrey's, take the kids home, go get our car later, etc.

Rich arrived home on foot at 10 p.m. with his arm in a sling; he'd been told he had a partial shoulder separation. So he was not able to drive and had to return to an ortho clinic in a week -- meaning we couldn't leave for PEI on the 7th as planned. So everything was up in the air for the next few days. But when he went to the clinic on Aug 9, the news was good: it wasn't a separation, just stretched ligaments. So he didn't have to have it manipulated back into place or anything; he just needed to be careful with it. But driving was OK, so we immediately started making plans to leave on Thurs the 11th -- just 4 days after our original planned departure date.

We left Kingston on the 11th, got to PEI on the 12th, and stayed there until this past Friday Aug 26. It was a good 2 weeks. The weather had been very poor on PEI for most of the summer; I'm not sure if we can take credit for its turn for the better when we arrived, but we had 2 great weeks of sun and warm temperatures. Only 2 rainy part-days the whole time. Jonathan loved hanging out at Grandma & Grandpa's, doing puzzles on the front porch, playing with the big buckets full of Lego, etc. We had a get-together with some extended family at my Aunt Jean and Uncle John's cottage, which was great, yet it was so strange to be there without them. Rich said it really sank in most for him then, not to have my aunt there laughing and talking and offering us food and drinks and hugs.

My cousins also asked me and Mom to come in to their parents' house to see if we'd like to have any of my aunt's clothes. I felt so sorry to see the girls doing this task of dismantling the house, going through their parents' things and trying to decide what to keep and get rid of, etc. I did take a sweater and some pajamas and a few books, and I feel very grateful to have them; I will always think of Aunt Jean when I wear or read them.

Besides these items, at the funeral both girls had mentioned that their mom had specifically left me something. So that day at the house they gave me this set of figurines which appear at the top of this post. My mom remembers when my aunt bought these and how taken she was with them. So it is really a joy to own these -- to know that she deliberately left them for me, and to have this link with my aunt whose name I share.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

thirteen candles

Two days ago (August 4) Allison celebrated her 13th birthday. It's hard to believe our little girl is a teen. She has changed so much in the past year! Happy Birthday Allison! You have a lot to look forward to.

Monday, July 25, 2011

summer stuff

The pictures I posted last time for Father's Day seem to sum up much of our summer so far: hanging out on the deck and not doing too much!

Jonathan started at Extend-a-Family day camp right after Canada Day weekend. He's going for 5 weeks so this is a great routine for him. Each morning we drive him to St. Lawrence College (less than 10-min. drive) where he is greeted by a counsellor and taken to his classroom to drop off his backpack and do activities with the friends in his group. He is still in the youngest group, age 4-8, and they have a great time doing puzzles, singing, playing with play-dough, and going on outings to the beach, swimming pool, Buskers Festival, splash pad, park, etc. He enjoys his days at camp and the staff are great with him, so it's nice to know he's having fun and thriving in his summer routine. The respite care is also truly a godsend for us. Long unstructured days don't suit Jonathan very well and he can be quite demanding and fussy, so to be honest the thought of an entire summer just having him at home would be pretty daunting. But when he's at camp there's always something going on and lots of attention, so it works really well.

Allison's been going to camp too, with Quintilian School, but only for 2 weeks: she attended the week before last & again this week. They've had some fun outings and activities too and she is very comfortable with the staff & kids there since she's gone to camp 2 previous years and attends Quintilian's Tues. night social club throughout the school year. On the off weeks we've been having some special times just with her: going to Tim Hortons, having lunch out, going for walks, etc. Last Friday Allison & I went to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and loved it!!

Weekends are usually pretty quiet. On Saturdays Rich usually takes Jonathan to the schoolyard to do "yell0w-blue-red," and Allison & I hit the library; then we hang out around home and eat supper on the deck if possible. On Sundays we go to church, then probably "y-b-r" afterward, then hang out at home for the afternoon and eat supper on the deck again! Sounds a little boring and sometimes it is, but we just try to keep it simple and enjoy it as best we can. The summer's been gorgeous (except for last week's heat wave which was not so enjoyable) and we're making the most of it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

father's day fun

Jonathan, in an attempt to increase his degree of difficulty, works on 3 jigsaw puzzles at once, with Dad's help.

Allison and Dad relaxing on the deck.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Serious, Fun, Pretty

On Friday night Allison's youth group ("Serious Fun") had its graduation banquet. They had a special meal, a speaker, games, and a ceremony for the grade 8's who will be moving up to senior youth group next year.
Here's a lovely shot of Allison at home and one of her and the other girls in their dressed-up best.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mom & Dad's visit

This past week we had a very nice visit from Mom and Dad. They took the train here and arrived last Friday the 13th (which sounded kind of ominous but turned out not to be :-). Alan and Genevieve and Sadie arrived from London right around the same time the train pulled in, so we had a nice little reunion there at the station. After a beautiful week of weather we were expecting Friday to be rainy, but it was a bonus sunny, warm day and we enjoyed sitting out on the deck for most of the afternoon and even barbecuing (first time in 2011!) for supper.

Everything changed the next day (Saturday): the rain started and lasted for most of the next few days. But we still had a nice time in spite of the rain. Alan and Gen and Sadie were in town till Sunday morning so we could enjoy supper together on Saturday evening -- everyone's favourite, Minos takeout!

Rich wasn't working during most of Mom & Dad's stay, so we took the opportunity to go on a few drives when the kids were at school. On Monday we drove to Gananoque (in the rain) and had lunch there; on Tuesday we visited Audrey, and Mom and I made our obligatory pilgrimage to Value Village; and on Wednesday we took the ferry over to Wolfe Island, had coffee at a little restaurant there, and then took the next ferry back.

They had to leave on Thursday morning already, so the time seemed to slip by very quickly. But we had a good time while they were here, and it makes the time we'll see each other again in August seem less distant.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

trickling thoughts ........

This week our kitchen faucet sprung a leak and we are waiting for a particular part to come in before we can have it fixed, so we can't use it and therefore have to get water from the bathroom for non-dishwasher dishes, etc. Rich commented that at least we have water, and pointed out that if I was still doing my "TNEL" series I could say "I'm thankful for water." Which I am! It's good to be reminded about things like that during life's minor inconveniences.

I guess I was blogged out after my Lenten series because I haven't written since Easter Sunday. It seems like a lot of things have happened since that weekend:

The Royal Wedding. I didn't get up early to watch it, but I did watch the 2-hour highlight program that evening. I was touched by the dignity and simplicity of the whole thing (if a wedding that's watched by 1 billion people can be said to be simple). The night after the wedding we had book study and we talked quite a bit about the whole phenomenon. Some people were bothered by the idea of putting two people on a pedestal this way, yet others commented on how much responsibility William and Katherine have to project an image of dignity and maturity and to be an example and role model to younger people. I thought it was very interesting that they wrote their own prayer for the wedding and that it spoke of wanting to serve other people.

The election. I always feel a bit uncomfortable at times like this because I have good friends who are on both ends of the political spectrum and I tend to be a more middle-of-the-road type of person. I don't agree with the prison farm closure (a big Kingston issue) or with scrapping the gun registry or with a number of other Conservative government initiatives, so I have concerns about this government's direction especially now that they have more carte blanche to implement their policies -- but on the other hand, I do not believe that Harper or his caucus are the spawn of Satan as some people seem to think. So I generally just listen to the more outspoken people on both sides and say very little myself.

My course. I say "my" a bit facetiously because the only way it's really mine is that I happen to be instructing it this semester. Last summer my friend/colleague Lori and I were tasked with revising and putting online the correspondence writing course we've both worked in for many years. It was a huge undertaking but it is finally done, and this past week the course opened up for its first semester's offering. The previous course was generally run by the Writing Centre Director in the Fall and Winter terms, while the Spring-Summer session was run by a rotation of 3 senior course tutors of whom I'm one. And it just happened to be my turn in Spring-Summer 2011. So it's been an anxious time getting all the last-minute stuff done and answering questions from students like "Where do I get the textbook?" "Why can't I access the course website?" and "The course is full; can I still register for it?" (Answers: At the bookstore; I don't know; No.)

Other things have been happening too, but a bit more behind the scenes. Sometimes we get so focused on the Big Events that a little perspective on what isn't really important (like the weird hats Prince Andrew's daughters were wearing) and what is (friends, family, health) is helpful.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

because He lives

A friend in our book study group sent out this beautiful image by email so I thought I'd share it here.

Today being Easter I was thinking about the words to a well-known song that we sang at a meeting in church earlier this week:

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

These words have special meaning for me today and I find strength in them. We all need hope for the future. May you find hope today in whatever situation you're in.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

TNEL Day 46: Name them one by one

Today is the last day of Lent and so this is my last official entry in the "TNEL" turnaround series. It's been interesting to do and I know I will enjoy looking back on the entries. A few thoughts come to mind at the end of this experience:

I think that something like this is best done because you really want to do it -- not out of a sense of duty or guilt. Often people who are discouraged or depressed are advised to count their blessings or write down things they are (or should be) thankful for. In one sense there's a good reason for that: discouragements can be the result of wrong or distorted thinking, and pondering the good things in our lives can help forge new pathways of thought. The down side, though, is that it can feel unnatural or forced rather than being a genuine response. So while I agree somewhat with the "count your blessings" admonition, I think it's important to remember that we have hearts as well as heads and shouldn't be forced or guilted into separating the two.

All that being said, this exercise has shown me that there are many, many things in our lives to be thankful for. I can't say I had any really earth-shattering or climactic moments during the last several weeks, but I did have an underlying sense of being blessed. I think that the whole point of the Lenten tradition of giving something up is to focus on the spiritual -- but that can often happen in ways that really do not appear very spiritual, like just being happy about the weather or your home or a brief encounter with a person. So while I can't say that I feel like a "more spiritual" person at the end of this, I do have a stronger sense that life is full of grace, and that you can become more aware of that just by reflecting on the simplest pleasures and joys.

"THANKS" for taking this journey with me. And have a joyful Easter, whether that involves enjoying chocolate and new spring clothes, or celebrating Jesus' Resurrection ... or all of the above! I think Easter is big enough to accommodate all of those things.

Friday, April 22, 2011

TNEL Day 45: church family, family family

We had a Good Friday service today at Bethel; it was a short, simple service with readings, songs, communion, and several videos of people giving their ending to the phrase "Because of Jesus, I...". There was no Sunday School so the kids were in church, which can be a bit stressful with Jonathan because he often talks loudly and makes weird sounds. But he did quite well and we all enjoyed the music and the meaningful presentation of the Good Friday story. Sandy Sheahan, a very kind woman in the church who takes a special interest in our kids, sat behind us (as usual) and made a fuss over Jonathan (as usual). During the prayer time I had Jonathan on my lap so I prayed for "Mommy, Daddy, Allison & Jonathan." Jonathan liked this and asked me to repeat it several times. Then Sandy leaned over and said a prayer for
"Jonathan and Allison and their great parents." That really touched me.

Then this afternoon we headed out to Doug & Caroline's for a family get-together. We had a turkey dinner and DQ ice-cream cake (the obligatory Prinsen dessert). We worked on a huge jigsaw puzzle with NHL hockey players, which Jonathan just loves to do every time he goes to their house. The kids played basketball outside with Rich & Doug. Cara gave us a little piano recital. We played "Apples to Apples," and Allison won. It was a great afternoon -- we always have such a good time together.

So today I'm grateful for family: church family, "real" family. That's what it's all about, really.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TNEL Day 44: nice 5 weeks

Errol was here for his "last supper" tonight; he leaves tomorrow to go back to Alberta after 5 weeks here taking a French course on the base. It's been great spending time with him: we've had quite a few meals together and spent lots of time talking, laughing, and catching up. He expects to be posted elsewhere again next summer and it would be great if it were Kingston or Ottawa. We'll miss having him here but it was really fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TNEL Day 43: Mr. O

While we're on the subject of Jonathan I have to say how grateful we are for his Educational Assistant at school, Joe O'Connor (a.k.a. "Mr. O"). He's been Jonathan's EA for 2 years now and knows him well. He's helped Jonathan learn to read, learn his numbers, and use the computer; he's helped with social skills and motor skills; he's even taken Jonathan on a summer day trip with his family and to a hockey game. He also likes (or at least tolerates) Yellow-Blue-Red (see last entry). We can't say enough good things about the wonderful Mr. O!

TNEL Day 42: Yellow-Blue-Red

Jonathan is totally hooked on what he calls "Yellow-Blue-Red" -- those playground structures where you throw a ball in the top and it comes out one of the coloured holes. He has been absolutely addicted to this activity for the last couple of years and would do it all day every day if possible. There is a YBR at his school and yesterday we played it before the morning bell with a couple of his classmates. It is such a great activity for Jonathan: it improves his ball skills (which are now amazing for a kid his age) and it is a good social activity too because he loves to share the ball with his friends; he very generously says "So close!" or "Try again!" when they miss. Although it can be a bit annoying to try to find YBR's when you're away from home (as we experienced last year in PEI as we drove past every school in the area looking for them), but it's a great thing for Jonathan to do and he shows no signs of getting bored with it yet!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

TNEL Day 41: writers' group

Last night I hosted a meeting of my writers' group. I and three other women started this group back in 2008. We've had a couple of people drop out and others join, but there are usually still around four of us at each meeting, which occurs every second Monday night for 2 hours. At the meeting we each share a portion of our current writing and get feedback from each other; sometimes we also talk about what's going on in our lives and support each other in that way too. It's great. I've learned a lot about writing from these women -- and have done far more writing in the past 3 years than I ever would have done without the group. So I'm very thankful for it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

TNEL Day 40: surprise

A few years ago when we still attended Westside church, a woman named Heather Berghuis came to our women's group. She was in my study group and we all really enjoyed her presence: she was very honest and real and had a great laugh. She and her husband and kids were going to Bethel Church at that time, and when we started going to Bethel 5-1/2 years ago we overlapped there for about 4 months -- until their family was posted with the military to Ottawa and we had to say goodbye. Then they moved to Wainwright, Alberta, which was the last address I had for them. Although we didn't have regular contact, I still sent them a Christmas card each year and always looked back fondly on the time we'd had together in both church settings.

This morning at church I was singing with the worship team and we were just hanging out in the back room waiting for the service to start. Suddenly there in front of me appeared Heather, with a big smile on her face. She kissed me on both cheeks and then we had a huge hug. It turns out they are living in Belgium now (hence the European kiss, she said) and flew here a couple of days ago so that she can visit her mother who is unwell in Michigan. So they came to church at Bethel to catch up with some of their old friends.

Though we only had a few minutes to talk, seeing her was such a pleasure. When someone just appears like that with no warning, you just feel like it's a gift -- and you realize how much impact certain people can have on your life.

TNEL Day 39: quiet weekend

This was a cold, wet weekend, great for "hunkering down." I love it when we have no big plans for the weekend and can just hang out. Jonathan seems to relax into a settled mode and just enjoys the peacefulness, and when he is contented and happy we all feel better. It's nice just to enjoy being at home.

Friday, April 15, 2011

TNEL Day 38: "black cars look better when they're free"

As Rich returned from the mechanic this morning with our car (we were getting the snow tires off, wipers replaced, just little things), I thought how grateful I am for our lovely 1999 Acura EL.

The main reason I'm grateful for it is that it was a gift. Our friends R. and M., who attend our church, gave it to us. They both drive 40 mins in to town every day in separate vehicles, so they need reliable ones. A year & a half ago they decided to buy a second SUV to replace M.'s car ... so they GAVE us the car. Our 1989 Corolla was working great but was nearing forced retirement, so the timing was amazing.

And so was the grace. I mean, you don't often hear of people giving other people cars. What can you say to that except thanks?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TNEL Day 37: transatlantic chocolate

Yesterday I got a fat little envelope in the mail: it contained a birthday card in Dutch from my good friend Lori Hellinga (whose family is in Holland for several months) as well as a Dutch chocolate bar. So I'm thankful:
- that chocolate is mailable
- that the mailman didn't have the munchies
- for thoughtful friends

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

TNEL Day 36: new toy

I'm thankful for our new laptop! While Errol's here I've taken shameless advantage of his technological savvy by asking him to help me buy one and get it up and running. So we headed out to Future Shop last week and I purchased a very nice (and inexpensive!) Compaq laptop. Errol also very kindly presented me with a wireless router for my birthday; I can't say I always secretly (or even openly) wanted one, but it is sure nice to have wireless Internet.

It's fun getting to know our new toy. It's also extremely useful because Allison is using the computer more and more for her homework and we were finding we would be waiting for each other to be done using it. So that won't be a problem any more.

So there really isn't much profundity or spiritual significance to this entry, but sometimes you just have to enjoy your toys!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TNEL Day 35: Signs of spring

- Putting laundry outside for the first time this year.
- Setting up the trampoline.
- Standing around outside and chatting to neighbours.
- Putting away the winter boots.
- Allergies. :-(
(Not exactly thankful for those, but they do come with the territory.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

TNEL Day 34: Monday Morning Workout

Last fall Jonathan went for several Monday-morning physiotherapy sessions at the Child Development Centre here in town; he has a physiotherapist come to the school periodically but at the CDC they can use equipment the school doesn't have. Today he started another set of these physio sessions so I took him there at 9 a.m. and then he went to school afterward. It's really fun to watch him do all the different activities: sitting and lying on the big fitness balls, lying face down on a wheeled scooterboard and pushing himself around the room with his hands, jumping on a mini-trampoline, walking the balance beam, stepping in and out of wooden boxes, etc. And the reward at the end is always 5 minutes of basketball-shooting. Janet, the physio, was very pleased with how far he's come along since the fall: how much stronger and more confident he seems. I am so grateful to have these services available for Jonathan -- and at no cost. We are blessed with many helpful resources in and outside of school.

TNEL Day 33: Contentment, defined

Last night Rich and I watched a movie that our book study group had done recently: an Indian movie called Amal. It's about an auto-rickshaw driver in New Delhi named Amal Kumar who takes on a disgruntled old passenger. The old man appears to be a drunken bum but is actually a dying millionaire looking for one good person in the city; when Amal treats him kindly in spite of his insults, he decides Amal will inherit his fortune.

There are many interesting threads to the story: Amal's relationship with a woman he drives every day, his concern for a young street girl who gets hit by a car, and the contrast between Amal's humility and the greed of the dead man's sons.

In one scene, the dead man's business partner is searching the city to find the obscure rickshaw driver who has been named in the will. Finally he locates Amal and takes a ride with him to ask him some questions about his life and ascertain that he is the right Amal Kumar. Amal tells him in simple terms that he is unmarried, that his deceased father left the auto-rickshaw to him and that he lives with his mother, and that he is just focused on working and making a living. "So you're content, then?" the business partner asks; when Amal says yes, he remarks, "Then God has been good to you."

I found that very profound: the idea that if you're content, that means God has been good to you. You just have to recognize it!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

TNEL Day 32: Inspiring music

Last night Rich & I went to a concert by Bruce Cockburn here in town at the Grand Theatre. Errol looked after the kids for us, & we met up with our good friends Gary & Corina and enjoyed a great visit with them as we waited for the concert to start. We don't go to many concerts but Bruce Cockburn is on our "must see/hear" list so we bought our tickets way back in the fall when we heard he was coming. Bruce is 66 now but still puts on a great concert. He's an amazing guitarist; last night he had only acoustic guitars and the sound was wonderful. His voice is as strong and passionate as ever if kind of raspy around the edges at times. But his song writing still stands out as his best attribute. He sang some of his classics like "Rocket Launcher," "Wonderin' Where the Lions Are," "All the Diamonds," "If a Tree Falls," and one of my favourites, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time": Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by? You never get to stop and open your eyes One day you're waiting for the sky to fall; The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all. To me those words really embody Bruce Cockburn's vision: he sees all the terrible things happening in the world, and it angers and frustrates him -- yet there's still joy and beauty all around as well. I find that very inspiring because it is tempting to focus on all that's wrong and needs changing, and forget that this world is beautiful and God is still God.

Friday, April 08, 2011

TNEL Day 31: Simple tastes #2

Today Allison is home from school because she decided not to enter the regional science fair which is going on today at Queen's. So she and I took Jonathan to school and then walked over to Tim Horton's for a donut and a drink. Then we walked to the library and took out some books and dvd's. Now she's sitting on the couch reading, and I'm catching up on email and giving some serious thought to marking some assignments. A day like this makes me realize that just as I mentioned a couple of days ago that Jonathan enjoys the simple pleasures of life -- I do, too. I don't really need a lot of entertainment or change in my life; I like things quiet and steady. And I think that's fortunate because our family life just doesn't allow for a lot of travel or change or new experiences. And while I do at times wish things were different -- e.g. I imagine how our lives would be different if Jonathan did not have the challenges he does -- I really try not to obsess about that because it's not very productive focusing on the "what ifs". I really try to live with what is, which is essentially what this blog series is about, I suppose.

TNEL Day 30: People who "get it"

Last night I went to an information meeting for Extend-a-Family, the organization that offers camps/programs for special needs kids. It was just an opportunity to find out how the summer camp program is set up, funded, etc. I sat between 2 very nice women, each of whom has a child around Jonathan's age who attends EAF camp. It is refreshing to meet with other adults who have special needs kids. So often when you interact with parents of non-disabled children, they talk about all the things their kids are involved in, hockey, gymnastics, birthday parties -- not that special needs kids cannot be or are not involved in things like that, but in our case those things just don't happen, and at times I feel like I'm in a totally different world. But in this case we could talk about our kids EA's and programming, their need for structure ... just things that, in OUR worlds, are the norm. Very refreshing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

TNEL Day 29: Simple tastes

Jonathan is home from school today because he's been a little under the weather since the weekend. I can't actually say that I am thankful for high-level quality time with Jonathan when he's home: he's sick enough to be better off at home, but well enough to be whiny and wanting to go somewhere. What I am grateful for are the simple pleasures he enjoys, like watching and re-watching Blue's Clues videos, doing jigsaw puzzles, and listening to favourite CD's like Simon and Garfunkel. Jonathan has a very high boredom threshold so it does not take much to make him happy.

TNEL Day 28: Lent is LONG!

WHEW! Who knew Lent was so long?? Four weeks down and still two to go. I'm trying not to scrape the bottom of the barrel for things to be thankful for but sometimes it's hard to come up with something meaningful or at least not completely trivial. But it's good that Lent is 6 weeks long. Whether you give up something or add something, you need an extended period of time to reflect on what you're actually doing. A book I recently read by Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, comments on gratitude not just as a spontaneous response but as a discipline -- a mindset that you develop so that you come to understand that all of life is a gift of grace. I really like that idea, and it fits with what I'm trying to do here. So I guess I am grateful that I have 2 more weeks to go ...

Monday, April 04, 2011

TNEL Day 27: "Refrigerator Rights"

Today I'm thankful to see yet another note on my blog from my good friend Lori Hellinga! We met way back in 1990 or so when she & Bruce started attending our church. We scheduled a coffee "date" and we've been friends ever since. They live in Waterloo now so we don't see them nearly as much as we'd like -- and now they're in Holland for several months. Ironically, though, we're keeping in touch far more frequently now through our respective blogs; I know way more about their day-to-day life in Holland than I did about their Waterloo life! So that's been an up-side to the distance between us. Rich and I once read a book that asked us to consider who we have "refrigerator rights" with -- in whose home would we feel comfortable just opening the fridge and looking for what we want? There really aren't too many people I feel that way about but Lori & Bruce definitely fit into that category. When we get together, even if it's only every couple of years, we are totally at home and at ease. So no matter how many miles or years come between us we know we will always stay friends. Unless they get a padlock for the fridge, of course ... that would be a deal breaker. :-)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

TNEL Day 26: Walking to church

We're very thankful for Bethel Church, which we've attended for the past 5-1/2 years. There are many things we love about it: the great leadership and preaching, the dynamic music, the mix of different ages and backgrounds, the kids' programs, and more. It is also really great to be able to walk to church. In the winter months we hadn't been able to, but this morning Allison & I headed out in the sunshine at 8:30 a.m. and really enjoyed our walk together. (Jonathan was sick so Rich stayed home with him.) It's a great way to start the day and the week.

TNEL Day 25: family in town

For the last two weeks I've been enjoying having my brother Errol here in Kingston while he takes a short French course on the base. Rich is used to having family living nearby, having been born in Kingston and lived here all his life, but I haven't had that experience for most of the last 25 years. So it's been great to have Errol dropping by at all hours of the night (OK, not really). He also fixed the computer (YESSS!). Last night we had pizza together and played a game of Apples to Apples, which Allison loves. So it's been fun.

Friday, April 01, 2011

TNEL Day 24: "a time to laugh"

It being April 1, I was tempted to post something about being grateful for my plastic surgery or my recent lottery win or something, but I thought I might start some unpleasant rumours, not to mention having friends and relatives come out of the woodwork asking for loans ... :-)

I really am thankful for April Fool's Day. It's great to have a holiday that just involves silliness. Allison goes to youth group Friday nights, and they got a notice saying that tonight they have to bring a bicycle pump, a bathing suit, and a snorkel. Hmmm, sounds suspicious to me ...

Speaking of Allison, ever since she started school, April Fool's Day has been a well-kept tradition in our house. She has come to expect that when she gets to school she will find her backpack and lunch bag full of silly things. Now that she's getting older and a bit more self-conscious, I've assured her that if she does NOT want to keep up this tradition she should say so ... but she just smiles.

That being the case, I hope she likes the plastic bat in her clarinet case, the purple toy puffer fish in her binder, the toy wrench in her pencil case, the plastic bun in her sandwich container, and the grape tomato in her container of orange slices. Hey -- what's not to like?

TNEL Day 23: Me & my computer -- a love-hate relationship

(Computer woes have beset me this week but I'm determined to keep this series up if I can. If it suddenly stops, though, you'll know why. Sigh, computers: you can't live without them, but they can drive you crazy too.)

It's ironic, then, that I would say I'm thankful for technology. But there are so many great ways now to keep in touch with people: blogs, Skype, Facebook (though I haven't succumbed and joined up with that yet), chats, forums, and of course email. The computer is actually the introvert's best friend because it lets you keep connected without having to actually get out there and see people.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TNEL Day 22: Spring!

I know I've had several spring-related thank-you's so far in this series but this morning I really felt it. After dropping Jonathan off I had an errand on campus so I walked there, enjoying the warm sun on my face. There were just the barest patches of snow to be seen in the shadier spots. I could wear my shoes, a lighter coat, and no hat. I saw snowdrops several times along the way and saw lots of geese making their way north. Spring is a beautiful time of year and I look forward to all it has to offer.

TNEL Day 21: Below the surface

Yesterday Allison was working on a school project in which she had to design a T-shirt with a slogan that was meaningful to her. I was impressed with her thoughtful reflections. She chose the slogan "Everything happens for a reason" and stated that although she often feels "weird and different," there must be a good reason that she is the way she is. She commented that even when bad things happen like doing badly on a test, there might be a good reason that it happened -- maybe to encourage her to study harder -- and that people should try to look positively at the bad things in their life. Allison is not always the easiest person to communicate with, but I'm thankful that every now and then we get a little peek below the surface and see just how she is maturing and coping with life in her own unique way.

Monday, March 28, 2011

TNEL Day 20: Faithful friendship

I'm very thankful for my good friend Lori, whose birthday it is today. I met Lori on one of my first days on Queen's campus in September of 1986. We were classmates and shared an office during our Master's degree programs, and we have been friends ever since. Our lives intersect at many points: we're in the same writers' group and book study group, we're both part of a small worship group that meets monthly, we're working together on a project for the Queen's Writing Centre ... in fact, we often jokingly say that we have to stay friends because if we didn't, our entire lives would fall apart! Lori's a talented writer and teacher and most of all a beautiful person, inside and out. We've enjoyed thousands of coffee dates, catching up on our lives, talking about faith and books and writing and everything else under the sun. Here's to many, many more. (photo Ray Vos)

TNEL Day 19: Small world

I'm thankful for 2 reminders I had yesterday of our small world. In church we had a missions week and the focus yesterday was on a small village in Ecuador, Santo Domingo de Onzole, which our church is supporting. The villagers are descendants of African slaves who fled from Colombia. They are totally ignored by the Ecuadorian government and are also discriminated against because they are black. In church we watched a video of some of the villagers talking about what they like about their community but also the struggles they have (no infrastructure, poor education so kids have to board at a school in another town, etc.). The presenter talked about how amazed the people of the village are to know that in Canada there's a church that cares about them and whose youth group is having a 30-hour fast to raise money for them. For me the video was the best part because we got to hear the people's own perspective on their life, their joys and struggles, etc. Then later in the afternoon a girl came to the door trying to raise money & awareness for Amnesty International. She spoke with passion about AI's work on behalf of prisoners of conscience and said how encouraging it is for these prisoners to know that people all over the world care about their plight and are actively trying to help them. Both of these things made me think of the words by poet John Donne: No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

TNEL Day 18: Our neighbourhood

We've lived in our current house for nearly 11 years now, and we hope we never have to move. Our street is a wonderful little hidden jewel -- a circle drive that gets mostly local traffic and that has a nice little park right in the middle. It was created as postwar housing so the homes are (mostly) small and similar. But houses and parks are one thing; people are another. And we have great neighbours. There are at least 8 homes on the street that we'd have no hesitation going to if we needed help. (And we have: I've knocked on a neighbour's door at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday to ask for help with a dysfunctional sump pump -- and he still speaks to me! :-) At least once a year we have a neighbourhood party, and it seems there's always at least one "new" person comes out to that, even if they've lived on the street for years -- guess they just can't resist the friendly atmosphere. It's a great place to live, and we hope we're here for many more years to come.

TNEL Day 17: Richard

I couldn't write a thankfulness series without expressing thanks for my great husband! We both really enjoy the simple things in life -- like each other, ha ha. It is great just to have coffee together, hang out with the kids, and laugh at the same silly things. I feel very blessed to have him in my life. I love you hon!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TNEL Day 16: S4W

Every Thursday morning I attend a group called "Something for Women" at Bethel Church. We drink coffee & tea, sample the various treats people bring, catch up on each other's lives, pray for each other, and do a study together. I've been going to S4W ever since we started at Bethel in the fall of 2005. Meeting people at a new church is challenging, but about 2 weeks after we started going to Bethel I met two women who attended this group and who urged me to come. I remember that first sunny September morning, pushing Jonathan in the stroller on the way to the church. Sue, a regular S4W member whom I'd met once before, caught up to me on her bike and walked the last block with me. Jonathan headed off to child care with Phyllis, who has been caring for kids at Bethel for, oh, 40 years or so, and I went to the women's meeting where about 15 friendly women greeted me and made me feel very welcome.

Our group is a little smaller now, as people come and go and their schedules change, but our format is still the same: socialize, pray, and study together. I consider these women my good friends and I look forward every week to getting together with them. So today I'm very thankful for S4W.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TNEL Day 15: Working at home

I feel very thankful that I can work at home and have been able to do so ever since the kids were born. This has been a particular blessing since Jonathan started school, especially because for his first 3 years of school he came home every day for lunch. He goes full days now, but I still enjoy the flexibility of home work. Right now I'm involved in 2 projects: my regular assignment marking for a correspondence writing course, and a major revision of that course into a new online format. To be able to do 99% of my work from home is really convenient. Not everyone has this opportunity, and I'm grateful that I do.

TNEL Day 14: Quintilian

For the last couple of years we've been fortunate to be connected with a great local organization called Quintilian. They run a very small private school mostly for kids who have had trouble learning or socializing in the regular school setting. They also have summer day camps and a Tuesday night social club that runs through the school year; Allison has been attending both since 2009. Every Tuesday night they do a different activity: laser tag, board games, movies, crafts, skating, hiking, swimming, you name it. It's an accepting, relaxed environment where the kids (who, to be honest, are all a bit quirky) can just be themselves and have fun. We're really thankful to have so many resources in the community for our kids; Quintilian is just one of them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

TNEL Day 13: Overflowing grocery cart

Today was grocery-shopping day. It was snowing huge fat wet snowflakes and I had to brush the car before leaving home, after dropping Jonathan off, and after getting the groceries. It wasn't really a nice morning to be out. But I'm glad I went, because every time I come home from getting groceries and start putting everything away, I feel thankful that we have money to buy food. We can buy fresh healthy things like apples, oranges, potatoes, and milk, without having to worry whether we can cover the cost when we get to the checkout. We are blessed.

TNEL Day 12: Greek takeout

Restaurants and our family (make that Jonathan) do not really get along, so takeout is a great solution. Once a month, usually on a Sunday, we have Greek takeout from Minos Restaurant. Jonathan is crazy about it: he loves the tzatziki, the red onions and feta cheese in the salad, the spicy pink salad dressing, and especially the potatoes. Last night Uncle Errol came for supper and we had a big feast of Minos food, so we had a great evening. And there's always lots of leftovers, so for two nights in a row I don't need to think about what to make for supper. Sweet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

TNEL Day 11: "Thou silver moon with softer gleam" ...

... NOT!

As I sit here typing, a huge, bright moon is beaming in the window behind me. Tonight (in case you didn't know) there is a supermoon: the moon is passing especially close to earth tonight on its elliptical orbit, and because this happens to be a full moon it's particularly bright and big (14% larger than usual). It looks very proud of itself tonight.

I'm thankful that it was a clear, cloudless day and evening that allowed us to see this unusual, beautiful sight; there won't be another supermoon until 2029.

Friday, March 18, 2011

TNEL Day 10: Mmm .... cheese

I said this series would be cheesy, didn't I? But seriously -- isn't cheese great? Today I helped Allison with an experiment for her upcoming science fair. We put 6 different kinds of cheese on bread and put them in the oven for different lengths of time at different temperatures to test how much each would stretch. We held a tape measure next to the bread and pulled the cheese upward with a pointy knife until the cheese broke. Findings include the following earth-shattering facts:

- Cheese slices (process cheese) do not stretch very well, and they burn easily.
- Extra-old cheddar gets very soft and runny but is not very stretchy.
- Mozzarella will stretch at least six inches when heated at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.

Who knew?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

TNEL Day 9: A not-that-bad day after all

After 8 days of cheerful posts it was hard to think of an entry today. Jonathan was a little under the weather last night, so we kept him home from day camp today just to be on the safe side (he had had a bit of the runs and today they were going to the swimming pool; we didn't want to inflict THAT on anyone!). He was not really sick today at all, but he was kind of cranky. I suppose I should say I am thankful he wasn't very sick, but to be truthful I felt cheated of my "free day" and I felt like I got absolutely nothing done, so I really wasn't feeling very thankful.

But tonight I took the kids with me to music practice at church and we had a good time. Just like people say they feel better after strenuous exercise (I wouldn't know), I feel better after singing -- physically and emotionally. Then after we got home my brother Errol dropped in. He is in the Army and is currently stationed in Alberta with his wife Alycia, but he is taking a 5-week intensive French course here at CFB Kingston. So he arrived last night and started his course today. He came by this evening to visit and have a snack; it was great to see him. So the day ended well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TNEL Day 8: Allison

Today Allison and I had a girls' afternoon out: shopped for jeans at Old Navy (she tried on about 12 pairs and bought 1), went to the library, got our hair cut. When we have outings like this it is usually a fairly quiet time because Allison is not much of a talker. But she is a very sweet girl who brings a lot of joy into our lives. I remember how happy I was the day she was born and the doctor said "It's a girl!"

(photo credit Ray Vos)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TNEL Day 7: Extend-a-Family

Extend-a-Family is a wonderful Kingston organization that provides programs for special-needs kids and adults and their families. For the last 2 summers Jonathan has attended EAF's day camp program for several weeks, and he'll be doing the same this summer. He also goes to their Saturday programs twice a month and enjoys a day of games and swimming.

They also offer a March Break day camp, so Jonathan's going to that for 3 days this week. He went today and had a fun day with his friends. We're very thankful for EAF because it gives Jonathan a chance to do outings and activities geared to his abilities, and it's a respite opportunity for us.

Monday, March 14, 2011

TNEL Day 6: Sun

Today was one of those days where you can just feel Spring (with a capital S) in the air. We hadn't seen the sun for nearly a week so it was very welcome. It's March break so it's great to be able to get outside and enjoy it.

TNEL Day 5: Daylight savings time

OK, I know this is day 6 but I went to bed last night and forgot to make my Day 5 entry. (That may happen frequently in the next 6 weeks so get used to it....)

In any case (since we just changed our clocks Saturday night) I'm very grateful for Daylight Savings Time. I love it when daylight extends into the evening hours -- just another sign of spring and the longer days ahead.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

TNEL Day 4: Sump pump

I'm thankful for our sump pump, which has been working steadily the last few days to cope with our heavy rainfall and melting snow. But even as I say that, I think it sounds very selfish because of what has just happened in Japan with the terrible earthquake and tsunami. It seems petty (some would even say obscene) to be thankful for something that really prevents a relatively small problem from occurring, when so many thousands have lost everything, even their lives.

How do we wrap our minds around this whole issue of being grateful for the good in our lives while others suffer? Some would say we can't be thankful (to God, "the universe," or whatever) for the good without also assigning blame for the bad. I don't really agree with that. I don't think true gratitude is ever the wrong response to the blessings you enjoy. If you are ungrateful about what you have (much or little), then you will cling to it, control it, and hoard it -- after all, if there's no one to thank, then you did it all yourself and it's all up to you. I think gratitude helps you live in the moment, hold things lightly ... AND give to others in need.

Friday, March 11, 2011

TNEL Day 3: Geese flying north

This morning as I walked Jonathan to school we heard and saw the first geese of the season: a big checkmark of them, and then a smaller flock afterward. Can spring be far behind? That's a prospect to be thankful for.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

TNEL Day 2: Rubber boots

With 10-15 mm of rain today and 20mm more forecast for tonight, I'm very thankful for my rubber boots! I wish mine were as cute as Allison's, though.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

TNEL Day 1: Jordan and Jordyn

I'm thankful for Jonathan's classmates, who look out for him at school. Today his classmate Jordan (male) met us in the schoolyard and joined us throwing snow-chunks into the yellow-blue-red structure. He talked to Jonathan, encouraged him, and urged him toward their line when the bell rang. When they were in line, his classmate Jordyn (female, very cute, chubby, and blonde) greeted him. She told him it was their friend Sam's birthday and that they might have cupcakes later; she stopped another boy from butting in line; and she helped Jonathan up the steps. He gets by with a little help from his friends!

LENT spelled backwards is TNEL

Our discussion last night about "giving up something for Lent" got me wondering what I could give up. Once I gave up pop & chips (that was in our pre-kid days when Rich & I drank pop & ate chips on a regular basis); another time I gave up desserts. Yes there's a pattern there.

This year I thought I might give up complaining. Not that I think I complain any more than the average person, but it's easy to get into that mode. But then I got a different idea: I'm going to turn Lent around and instead of giving up something, I'm going to add something. Every day in Lent I'm going to write one thing I'm thankful for. Does that sound cheesy? Oh well, next year I'll give up cheese.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

no Roll Up the Rim for him

We had pancakes for supper tonight in honour of Shrove Tuesday. I commented offhandedly that I should give up something for Lent -- maybe pancakes. (ha ha)

Allison turned to Jonathan and said, "Jonathan, what are you going to give up for Lent?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Jonathan answered, "Coffee."

Monday, February 28, 2011

what's Jonathan been up to?

Jonathan hasn't appeared in these blog pages that much lately, so I thought I'd post a few cute pictures of him. Here is a happy shot from PEI this past summer, taken by our friend Ray Vos. Jonathan was actually a bit grumpy about the photo shoot, so I made him smile by singing one of his favourite songs: "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel.

Here he is wearing a pair of sunglasses he made in school: they are in the shape of "100" because his class was celebrating the 100th day of school.

And here he is at home with his friend Paul Allison, who was at our house for a visit. Paul and his father Dave are Jonathan's small group leaders at Sunday School. They really care about Jonathan and have been a great source of support with him at church.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Choices for Change

Yesterday was a big day for Allison. Since the fall she has been preparing a project for what's called "Challenge for Change", an initiative that the three Challenge Program sites in our area (Kingston, Odessa, and Sydenham) all participate in. The project is designed to help students be world-changers. They can work alone or in groups; they choose an issue and then design a project around it. They can invent something, do a service project, create a film or piece of art or music or writing ... the possibilities are endless.

For this project Allison wrote a book. She enjoys choose-your-own-adventure novels in which the reader can choose from a variety of options and endings -- so she wrote her own novel called "Choices for Change: A Choose Your Own Adventure Book About Global Warming." It is about 40 pages long and has about 10 different endings, and it touches on issues like solar vs. wind power, littering, etc. It's an excellent piece of writing and really interesting. (One of the moms said to me, "It sounds like a kids' book, but it doesn't sound like it was written BY a kid.")

Yesterday all the Challenge students presented their projects at an all-day conference at Queen's. Parents could come for the last 2 hours of the day, so I went to see Allison's display as well as check out all the others. It was so interesting to see the wide variety of issues (water conservation, bullying, women in Afghanistan, child labour, seniors' rights, global rights for girls, soccer jerseys for kids in Africa, etc.) and the many different forms of projects.

Here's Allison proudly showing her book and display.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

excuse me while I brag

Today I attended an IPRC meeting for Allison at her school. (IPRC stands for Identification, Placement and Review Committee and refers to the yearly meeting schools are obliged to hold for each of their special needs students to review their status, ensure they are getting the right services, etc.)
This meeting was attended by Allison's teacher, principal, vice-principal, and myself. It was so encouraging to hear the teacher's many positive comments about Allison and how far she has come since September (she's "like a different person," she said). She said Allison is much more relaxed, happy, and comfortable at school and much better at dealing with upsetting incidents than she was in the fall. She commented on how organized Allison is, how good her academic work is, and how her attitude has improved (e.g. she went from expressing a lot of anxiety about being onstage in their upcoming "Romeo & Juliet" play, to actually wanting a speaking role). All in all it was just a glowing report. The two main areas the teacher feels need continued attention are Allison's difficulty accepting direction and criticism, and her lack of social confidence. She said that Allison's girl classmates all like her and want her to be part of the group, but Allison is often hesitant to join in. So the teacher wants to work on these areas for the rest of the year, possibly with the help of a support teacher from the school board's autism team.
It's hard not to feel very proud when you come away from a meeting like that, so I just had to assert my mom privilege and do a little bragging!