Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Scraps of comfort

Jonathan's been sick for the past five days.  He's spent most of them watching his favourite DVD's and listening to CD's, doing jigsaw puzzles when he has the energy, and resting on the couch or napping in bed.

He's been asking for a "fresh cloth" a lot, so I've been indulging that request more often since he's sick.

When Jonathan was a baby he did an excessive amount of spitting up, and as a toddler he drooled like crazy, so for a long time we needed to have a steady supply of those flannel receiving blankets on hand just to keep up.  As time passed, he discovered that these blankets weren't just good spew-wipers; they were also nice and soft to hold -- and since he never used a soother or claimed a favourite stuffed animal, he adopted his "cloths" as his comfort toys.

Fast-forward to the present; he is now eleven, and still takes a new, clean "cloth" to bed every night.  Except they are no longer 18-inch-square flannel blankets; our supply has dwindled to about seven scraps of flannel (and I use the word flannel loosely, since there's no "nap" on the fabric anymore).  These cloths aren't even good enough to clean up spills with, they're so thin and raggedy.  And small:  this one is probably only about 7 x 5 inches.

But replacing them with newly cut squares of fresh flannel is a no-go.  Believe me, we've tried, only to have the nice new plushy pieces angrily and tearfully rejected.  New is not better:  only the old ragged, hole-y cloths will do.

I don't think clinging to old, worn, familiar comforts is unique to Jonathan.  How many of us slouch around in ratty pajama pants or outdated sweaters -- things we wouldn't be caught dead in out in public -- just because there's something reassuring and cosy about them?  How many of us reach for the same mug and curl up in the same corner of the couch just because it feels right?

But we're sometimes a little ... well, uncomfortable with comfort.  Or we think we should be.  So often we hear a motivational speaker or a preacher or athlete talk about "getting out of our comfort zone" -- pushing ourselves beyond our limits, taking on a challenge we've never faced before.  And that's a good point.  Too much comfort can lead to complacency and laziness and can narrow our vision to our own selfish concerns.  I definitely have to guard against this because I tend to prefer comfort over challenge.

But when I give Jonathan his third "fresh cloth" of the day just because he asks for it, I can't help but see comfort as a good thing.  We need to know there's something there we can reach out for that will give us that sense of peace and all-rightness, that assurance that some things don't change and don't need to change, but can be relied on.  Even if they're just little scraps of cloth, they can be an important symbol of the security that we all really need -- a security that, ironically, can be the very source of the courage we need to face challenges when the time comes to do so.


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday morsel: the melancholy days

The other day on Facebook my friend Mary posted this stanza from William Cullen Bryant's poem"The Death of the Flowers."  Though it's sad, it's beautiful; so I thought I'd share it here.

image:  freeimages.co.uk

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the withered leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit's tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow, through all the gloomy day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why can't recycling day be EVERY day?

In September Richard was given the loan of an iPad Mini for the upcoming year:  the School of Nursing (where he's a clinical instructor this fall) is considering experimenting with these devices for evaluating students and other purposes.

Richard has quickly found some significant uses for the one he got:  mainly checking email and Facebook.

It also takes great pictures!  Rich has got in the habit of taking the iPad outside whenever he and Jonathan are out, so that he can capture any important moments.  Here's one:  getting the blue boxes ready for recycling day, the highlight of Jonathan's week.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday morsel: Octobers

 Yesterday Modern Mrs. Darcy posted part of this quote, and since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I thought I'd use it today.

From L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables:

"Oh, Marilla," [Anne] exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn't it? Look at these maple branches. Don't they give you a thrill--several thrills?” 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

proud and humble

Last week was a proud one for us as parents.  Allison received a letter from her high school a few weeks ago saying that she had made the Honour Roll -- she had achieved 80 or above in eight subjects last year (Grade 9) -- and was invited to the Honour Awards night.

That event took place last Wednesday.  Grandma offered to come and stay with Jonathan so that Richard and I could both attend with Allison.  We arrived and started looking through the program.  All the Honour Roll students were listed, and there was also a long list of special prizes and subject awards.  There was Allison's name listed as one of the recipients of the Anne Spooner Award for attendance.  "Did you miss any days last year?" we asked.  She tapped her mouth with her finger and said calmly, "I don't think so."  Then we looked through the other lists.  "Allison -- your name is here for highest in Geography."  She nodded.  "And your name is here for highest in English."  She nodded again, very matter-of-factly.

The evening unfolded just like a graduation ceremony; the only difference was the wide range of clothing worn by the students!  Some were in the same jeans and running shoes it looked like they'd worn to school that day; some wore prom-worthy outfits; two boys even came in volleyball uniforms, complete with knee pads, having taken a break from their game to receive their awards.

It was exciting to see Allison called forward to receive her honours.  (It doesn't matter if it's a kindergarten concert or a high school ceremony; as parents you still only have eyes for your own child!)  Afterward we talked to her former teacher, Mr. Rob Switzer, who had taught both of the courses she received awards for, and he was happy to pose for a photo with her.

Allison is extremely quiet and humble about her accomplishments; in fact she often has a hard time believing that she is actually good at things, or that the things she is good at are worthwhile.  So we are very proud to see her receive some well-deserved recognition for her achievements.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

LOST: sixteen-storey apartment building

Last week for my "Monday Morsel" I posted a Celtic prayer about the mist hiding the hills and the rain hiding the sun (read it again here).  Yesterday on my morning walk I had a vivid object lesson on the same subject.

I took Jonathan to school and then continued on my walk alone, since the friend I usually walk with on Tuesday mornings wasn't available this week.  The sun had been shining when I left home, but the morning fog had obscured it by this time.  As I got closer to the lake, the fog grew thicker, and I could hear the foghorns in the harbour.  I noticed how the maple trees' autumn colours stood out in much stronger relief against the gray sky -- and there were so many colours, from a dark almost-black wine, to a bright orange that looked more like the coating on a Dorito than anything found in nature, to a warm, transparent yellow.  Many spots along the sidewalk were thick with fallen leaves, making my walking poles skid and slip as I walked.

I went down the steep hill of Beverly Street; when I reached King Street I turned right and headed west.  There was no wind, but the foggy air felt damp and cool on my face and hands.  When I reached the next major intersection I turned right by the Kingston Penitentiary and started north on Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, past the penitentiary museum and old Prison for Women on my left.  Then I looked further up the street and thought, "Where is John Orr Tower?"

About 750 metres ahead of me there should have been a sixteen-storey apartment building, but there was absolutely no sign of it.  I continued walking, keeping my eye fixed on where the building should have been.  I reached the next intersection, by this time only about 300 metres from the location.  Nothing.  I marveled at the fact that someone driving past who didn't know the city would never even guess that there was a high-rise so close by.   I crossed at the lights and kept walking north.  Only when I was almost directly across the road, no more than 100 metres away, could I make out, through the gray haze, the flat white edges and jutting-out balconies of the building.

When I'd walked a little further north, I stopped and looked back across the road.  Once again, it was as if the tower had never existed; I'd had only a glimpse of it, and even that was misty and obscure.

For me, that experience taught me (or reminded me of) some things about life and faith.  As the Celtic prayer put it, sometimes "the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of Your face from me."  Sometimes God seems far away or even absent, and it can be very tempting to assume that means He is not there ... or even that He never was.  Just as when a human relationship breaks down, we may wonder, "Was I delusional?  Was I wrong in thinking that was something strong and lasting?" we can have similar thoughts about God, wondering if He ever really cared or was ever really involved in our lives.

The lost sixteen-storey building reminds me to trust that Someone is present even if there is no visible sign.  It reminds me to hope for something beyond what I'm able to see at the present moment.  It reminds me to have patience: that circumstances may change, that whatever's blocking the view may disappear -- or that time itself will be transformative.  

It reminds me to keep walking, waiting, and watching.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October: what I read last, what I'm reading now, what I'll read next

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post to share what I've been reading.


I just finished Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I read her novel Purple Hibiscus this summer and absolutely loved it.  Half of a Yellow Sun takes a wider perspective, following three characters caught up in Biafra's fight for independence from Nigeria in the 60's:  Ugwu, a teenage servant; his master's lover, Olanna; and Richard, an Englishman in love with Olanna's twin sister Kainene.  It's a very good book, slow at first and then increasingly intense and suspenseful.  Yet I found it so heavily peopled with minor characters that it was hard to remember and care about them all; and I found myself wishing the story would just stay with the sisters because their relationship was so interesting and moving.  Still, Adichie is a great writer.  (I just found out this book has been made into a movie, though I'd be a bit reluctant to watch it because the book is quite violent in places.)


I'm now reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple; a friend recommended this after her book club did it.  It's about Bernadette (an eccentric agoraphobic), her husband Elgin (an eccentric Microsoft employee), and their brilliant daughter Bee.  I've only started this book and it sure is quirky so far -- but I was hooked when I read this passage that warmed my Canadian heart:

"One of the reasons I don't like leaving the house is because I might find myself face-to-face with a Canadian.  Seattle is crawling with them.  You probably think, U.S./Canada, they're interchangeable because they're both filled with English-speaking, morbidly obese white people.  Well, ... you couldn't be more mistaken.

Americans are pushy, obnoxious, neurotic, crass ... Canadians are none of that.  The way you might fear a cow sitting down in the middle of the street during rush hour, that's how I fear Canadians.  To Canadians, everyone is equal....  No wonder the only Canadians anyone's ever heard of are the ones who've gotten the hell out.  Anyone with talent who stayed would be flattened under an avalanche of equality.  The thing Canadians don't understand is that some people are extraordinary and should be treated as such."


Next I plan to read our book study group's November choice:  Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road, a novel about two young Cree men who become snipers in World War I.

What have YOU been reading?


Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday morsel: gratitude

From Henri Nouwen:

"Gratitude goes beyond the 'mine' and 'thine' and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Monday morsel: a Celtic prayer


As the rain hides the stars,
 as the autumn mist hides the hills,
 as the clouds veil the blue of the sky,
 so the dark happenings of my lot
 hide the shining of Your face from me.
 Yet, if I may hold Your hand in the darkness,
 it is enough, since I know that,
 though I may stumble in my going,
 You do not fall.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Thankful Tuesday: school, walking, studying, weather

I haven't done a "Thankful Tuesday" post in a long time, but after reading Micha Boyett's Mama:Monk blog, I thought I would follow her lead today.

I'm thankful:

  • that Jonathan has had a smooth transition back to school.  He has the same teacher as he's had the last two years, and the same awesome Educational Assistant and backup EA.  This allowed him to pretty much just pick up where he left off in June.
  • that Allison's first month back at high school has also been good.  She has joined the school writing club; she is meeting with an Autism counsellor once a week and writing self-affirmations on post-it notes to put where she can see them; and she's improving greatly on her clarinet (no honks, and some pretty awesome trills).
  • for my new Tuesday morning tradition of meeting a friend to walk and talk for 1.5 hours.  We cover a lot of ground, literally and figuratively.
  • that I've joined a new study group at church.  We meet every second Thursday night for a study on Beth Moore's Jesus:  The One and Only.  There are 24 women in the group and I don't think I've been in a study or meeting with any of them before, so I'm excited about making some new connections.  And the first video was fascinating; it was about the "400-year silence" before the Messiah came.  I'm looking forward to the next session.
  • for the lovely weather this past week.  Warm sunshine beaming through softly-changing coloured leaves is a beautiful combination.