Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Big Box, Store" -- on asking for help

A few weeks ago was Richard's 50th birthday.  After wracking my brain for a long time about what to get him ("A book again?"  "Running gear again?"), I decided to go looking for a special Dad-type patio chair.  I found the perfect one on sale at Canadian Tire:  it had a canopy and a sliding pillow and everything.

However, the box was bigger than I expected, and unwieldy.  I knew I couldn't carry it to the checkout, so I went and got a cart.  Then I managed to lift the box and maneuver it sorta-kinda into the cart; then I made my way to the checkout with one hand on the cart handle and one hand steadying the box.

The cashier asked, "Do you need any help taking that out?"

"Oh, no, I'll be fine," I said.

I wheeled the cart out to the car, opened the trunk, put the back seats down flat, and moved my groceries (which I'd already bought before going to Canadian Tire) out of the way.

As I was doing this, I saw a guy sitting in a truck not far away.  He was watching me, and I was pretty sure that he was wondering if I needed any help and was ready to offer it if I did.

But I didn't.  I got the box out of the cart and into the car without much difficulty. 

So ... let me recap.  I wanted a patio chair.  I found the perfect chair on sale.  I thought I might not be able to get it out to the car or into the car myself, but I did.  Richard really likes it. 

As plots go, even I have to admit this story is boring.

But afterward I got thinking about why I didn't ask for help at any stage along the way.  It was a really awkward box.  Why didn't I go and look for someone to help me right away when I found the chair I wanted?  Why didn't I accept the cashier's offer of assistance to get the box to the car?  Why was I so determined not to look like an inept damsel-in-distress in front of what was probably a very nice man who would have been happy to help me out?

Possible answers?
- Self-sufficiency:  "I don't need anyone; I can do it."
- Pride:  "Look at me!  I did it all by myself."
- Determination:  "I will get this box into the car if it's the last thing I do."
- Desire to avoid being a bother (a.k.a. false humility):  "Other people might need help more than I do at this moment; I'll just struggle away on my own, don't worry about me."

I'm not exactly sure which motive was in play at that moment -- but the reality is that if the box had been five pounds heavier and six inches thicker, I would have asked for help without feeling any of those things.  So really it was a judgment call, and I was fortunate enough to judge correctly:  I thought I could probably do it without help, and it worked out fine this time.  In other circumstances I might judge differently.

I guess the problem is when we assume we don't need help when it is painfully obvious to others around us that we do.  Then failing to ask for help, or refusing it when it's offered, can be a really bad sign.

We used to sing this song at church called "The Servant Song," whose first verse goes like this:

Won't you let me be your servant?
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.

What an interesting idea:  that accepting help and service from others is an act of grace.  I should remember that -- not necessarily the next time I purchase a piece of patio furniture, but the next time I find myself struggling with something, either a practical need or a personal issue.  Instead of assuming I can handle it, maybe I should consider asking someone for help, thus showing grace to myself and to them.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday morsel: patience

I read this quotation on writer Michelle Van Loon's Twitter feed last week, and I've been pondering it ever since:

Patience with others is Love, 
Patience with self is Hope, 
Patience with God is Faith. 

– Adel Bestavros

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday morsel: "in the end"

"Everything will be all right in the end.
If it's not all right ... then it's not yet the end."

 - from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Twitterature: "May" I tell you what I've been reading?

Once again I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post, in which we give short reviews of what we've been reading.  (Yes, I know, they're "supposed" to be Twitteresque/ish in length but I can never keep to that!)  Here are the books I've read since last time:

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.  (I first heard about this novel on Modern Mrs. Darcy's blog, as she rated it one of the best books she'd read last year.)  It traces the friendship of two couples from the 1930's to the 1970's.  I was bothered by one oddity:  while both couples have children, they live as if they have none (they could have been childless and the plot would remain essentially unchanged).  But otherwise it's a beautifully written book about relationships that relies on small scenes and conversations -- the things most lives are made of -- rather than big dramatic events.

Why We Write:  20 Acclaimed Authors On Why They Do What They Do by Meredith Maran (ed.).  This interesting and inspiring book contains interviews with 20 writers (including Jodi Picoult, Ann Patchett, James Frey, and Mary Karr) about their writing goals, techniques, successes, and failures. 

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer.  This book explores why so many of us live divided lives, hiding our true selves and souls from others.  Palmer suggests that one solution involves creating "circles of trust": intentional communities that provide opportunity for the soul to find freedom and for participants to access and listen to their own inner truth.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.  Don Tillman, an oddball genetics professor (who probably has Asperger Syndrome), has trouble with relationships, so he takes on the Wife Project to help him find a partner.  While conducting his research he meets Rosie, a grad student, who is on her own quest and upsets his structured and systematic life.  This is a wonderful novel whose strongest point is its unusual, lovable main character.  I like quirky novels, but they really only work for me if they feature a compelling character who makes me care (Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise did; Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette didn't, so I found it funny but forgettable).  With The Rosie Project, I quickly came to like Don and appreciate his earnest desire to do what's right and fit into a world which, in many ways, makes no sense to him.  Here's one quote, to whet your appetite (Don's friend Claudia is trying to set him up with a woman named Elizabeth):

"Claudia had introduced me to one of her many friends.  Elizabeth was a highly intelligent computer scientist, with a vision problem that had been corrected with glasses.  I mention the glasses because Claudia showed me a photograph, and asked me if I was okay with them.  An incredible question!  From a psychologist!  In evaluating Elizabeth's suitability as a potential partner--someone to provide intellectual stimulation, to share activities with, perhaps even to breed with--Claudia's first concern was my reaction to her choice of glasses frames, which was probably not even her own but the result of advice from an optometrist.  This is the world I have to live in."

I know you'll love this book -- even if, as Don would say, that opinion is not "evidence-based"....

What have you been reading lately?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday morsel: our friend (from Cloud/Townsend)

“Truth is sometimes painful, 
but it is always our friend.” 

– from How People Grow by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mom's Day

On this
 Mother's Day  
I'm celebrating

my mom...

my mother-in-law...

and the two people who made me a mom!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Liebster Award

A few weeks ago my friend Adriana, who blogs at Classical Quest, nominated my blog for a Liebster Award.  This is not a competition; the Liebster Award was created to recognize and/or discover new bloggers and welcome them to the blogosphere.  It's actually more like a chain letter whereby you nominate other blogs that have fewer than 1,000 followers, and encourage those bloggers to nominate others.

There are various slightly different versions of the rules out there on the internet, but here are the ones I'm going by:
*Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to his or her blog.

*Display the award somewhere on your blog.

*List 11 facts about yourself.

*Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger who nominated you.

*Come up with 11 questions to ask your nominees.

*Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have fewer than 1,000 followers.  (Please do not re-nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

*Go to their blogs and inform them that they've been nominated.  


Thank you for nominating me, Adriana!  I'm glad to have been connected with you online for the past couple of years.  I enjoy reading Classical Quest:  the combination of reflections on the classics and life, and your lovely photographs, always touches me. 


  Here are 11 facts about me:

  1. I was born in the land of Anne -- Anne of Green Gables, that is:  Prince Edward Island, Canada.
  2. I'm a middle child with 2 older brothers and 2 younger brothers.
  3. My given name is Helen Jean:  Helen after my grandmother, and Jean after my aunt Jean and great-aunt Jean.  Jeannie was a nickname to distinguish me from the other Jeans.
  4. Those who are into personality testing and typing may be interested to know that I'm an ISFJ on the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (I usually split very evenly on the S/N part of the scale, but the ISFJ description suits me better) and a Six on the Enneagram.
  5. I used to play the accordion.
  6. I like baking; I make muffins, scones, and/or loaves at least once a week.
  7.  I won a short-story contest in 2010 and have received nothing but rejections of my writing ever since.  (There may or may not be a cause-effect in that last sentence.)
  8. I enjoy urban poling, a.k.a. Nordic walking; I took a class a couple of years ago and have been hooked ever since.  Whenever anyone says, "You forgot your skis" (there are apparently a few people out there who think they invented that line), I reply that I'm doing off-season training.
  9. I've been in a book study group for 18 years and a writing group for 6 years.
  10. My daughter, who is now 15, is also a writer (check out her blog novel, Poor Girl, Rich Girl, which she did for a grade eight project), and last summer we started a mother-daughter novel, writing alternating chapters from each character's perspective.  We have six chapters written, and I hope we can do more this summer.
  11. I love to sing.  "The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,/A fountain ever springing;/All things are mine since I am His--/How can I keep from singing?"


Here are my answers to the questions Adriana asked me:

1. Why did you start your blog? (If your purpose has changed since you started blogging, share how and why.)

I started my blog in 2007 mostly to share updates and photos about what our family was doing, for distant family members to keep up with our lives.  (I originally called it "The Prinsen House" but then decided against putting our last name in my blog title -- so I changed it to "little house on the circle" since we live on a circular street.  But I think there may be other blogs out there with the same -- or a very similar -- name.)  Now my blog focuses more on what I'm reading, things I'm finding challenging in terms of parenting, spiritual life, etc.  My posts are longer and more in-depth now, and I post more frequently (2-3 times a week).  My posts are also more connected to the blogging community:  I do linkups to other blogs, quote from other bloggers, etc. -- things I never did until about 2 years ago.

2. Which post did you most enjoy writing? Or, what post is your favorite? (Please provide the link.)

My favourite posts are my end-of-year lists of the books I've read each year, complete with short reviews.  See  2013, 20122011 and 2010.
3. Which post was the most difficult to write and why? (Link, if you wish.)

I don't have too many posts that were difficult for personal reasons, but my review of Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree was challenging to write because the book itself was challenging and raised lots of emotions in me about being a parent of special needs kids.

4. Share a favorite quote from a book or author.

From The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring:  

 "This quest may be attempted by the weak 
with as much hope as the strong. 
Yet such is oft the course of deeds 
that move  the wheels of the world: 
small hands do them because they must, 
while the eyes of the great are elsewhere." 

5. Name a character from classic literature that you would love to be neighbors with.

I would like to live next door to Elinor (Dashwood) Ferrars and Edward Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility.  Every time I do a "Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You?" quiz, I come out as Elinor.  I think she and I would be kindred spirits, and it would be nice to see her and Edward's home, visit their little parish, and chat with them about life and literature.

6. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what five books would you need?

My Bible, a blank book to write in, Lord of the Rings, Rebecca, and Little Women.  

7. What are you currently reading?

I've just finished Crossing to Safety, a novel by Wallace Stegner.  (It was  recommended by Anne Bogel on her blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, which I read regularly.)

8. Where is your favorite reading place?

Living room couch:  I  have all my current books on a side-table next to "my" end of the couch, as well as the coaster with my name on it to place my coffee cup on.

9. Can you name a book that you thought you would dislike, but ended up liking?

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, which is about a Jewish prayer book that travels through the centuries and across continents.  We read this novel for our book study group.  I'm not a big fan of sweeping historical novels but I was impressed by the detail and the various ways religious faith is portrayed.  I probably wouldn't reread it, but it was much better than the first few pages suggested it would be.

10. What do you do when you're not reading? 

I teach an online writing course at Queen's University here in Kingston, Ontario.  I write blog posts and short stories and occasional poems and am working (v-e-r-y   s-l-o-w-l-y) on a novel for tween readers.  I go for walks and play my guitar and sing.

11. You are on vacation in a foreign country. What do you make sure to fit into your itinerary? 

A trip to a café to sample their coffee and a treat to go with it.


Here are the blogs I'm nominating.  I should say to my nominees up front, though, that there's no pressure to do a post like this one.  If you can, great; if it's too much, don't worry about it:


And here are the questions I would like to ask those I've nominated:

  1. What quality do you like best about yourself?
  2. What have you done, or learned to do, that you never thought you could?  
  3. Why did you begin to blog?
  4. What do you like most and least about blogging?
  5. What was your favourite book when you were younger, and do you still like it?  Has it stood the test of time?
  6. Are you active on social media like Facebook and Twitter?  If not, why not?
  7. What would you like to have inscribed on your gravestone?
  8. If you could have a famous person (living or dead, real or fictional) as a next-door neighbour, who would it be?
  9.  As Anne of Green Gables said, "Which would you rather be if you had the choice--divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?"
  10. What would an ideal day look like for you?
  11. What is your favourite piece of music?

This has been a lot of fun.  I hope if you're reading this you'll check out the blogs I've nominated.  I really enjoy blogging, even if I have a small readership; and I've discovered there are a lot of good "little" blogs out there written by people who really have something to say.


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

fifty really is quite nifty