Friday, September 29, 2017

Five Minute Friday: DEPEND

Again today I'm joining the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: DEPEND.

The poet William Carlos Williams wrote a famous poem entitled "The Red Wheelbarrow." Here it is:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

They say a picture paints a thousand words; well, the sixteen words of this poem paint a vivid picture. It is easy to visualize the wet red wheelbarrow and the white chickens.

But it's the first four words that intrigue me most: "so much depends/upon." 

What, exactly, does that mean? What "depends upon" a red wheelbarrow?

 It's almost as if life itself is hanging in the balance: take away that wheelbarrow and the chickens, and everything falls apart. 

Can he seriously mean that?

I don't know exactly what Williams meant when he was writing this poem, but maybe he was saying that so much depends upon the details. 

So much depends upon noticing the world around us.

So much depends upon taking time to pay attention to the beauty that exists in simple, everyday things.

So much depends upon keeping our eyes open.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Five Minute Friday: ACCEPT

I'm linking up today with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is ACCEPT.


We're probably all familiar with the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Familiar words -- yet packed with meaning.

Accepting what we can't change -- in other people, in our past or present, in ourselves -- requires serenity: a willingness to let go of our grasping and be at peace with what is, and what isn't.

Changing what we can requires courage. When we're in a challenging situation, often the only thing we can really change is our response. That takes courage, because it almost always involves facing the truth about ourselves and where we fall short, and that's never easy. (I think of this particularly in terms of parenting, the ultimate crucible.)

Knowing the difference between the things I can and can't change requires wisdom. It would be a lot easier if the answers just dropped straight out of the sky: "You can change this -- so get to work! You can't change that -- stop trying to force it!"

But the prayer asks for wisdom, not a prepackaged formula -- and wisdom always comes from experience. It's not a formula or rule. It develops through a process of making mistakes (something I am quite good at) and learning from them (something I hope I'm at least starting to do). 


Friday, September 15, 2017

Five Minute Friday: SUPPORT

Today I'm joining up with the Five Minute Friday community again, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is SUPPORT.

We're two weeks into the school year, and I'm grateful for the support our kids are getting from their respective schools.

Jonathan is back to high school with the same Educational Assistant, Matt, and several of the same classmates. He gets on the bus eagerly each morning, looking forward to his various activities like volunteering at the food bank and swimming at the Y. We can relax knowing he is safe, active, and engaged.

After taking a year off, Allison has started university as a part-time online student, enrolled in two courses: English and Psychology. She has met with the office on campus that assists special needs students to discuss any accommodations she might need. Although she is only taking two courses, the university still granted her the entrance scholarship she'd been offered; she gets one installment this fall and will receive the second next fall depending on her marks and the number of credits she has accumulated. This money more than covers her tuition. We were very pleasantly surprised at how flexible the university has been in responding to her unique situation.

We can't do this special needs parenting thing alone; we need support. We're thankful for the help we've received so far.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 2017 "Quick Lit"

I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today for Quick Lit, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. This past month I read three nonfiction books (one of which I'm not reviewing here because it has not been officially released yet) and one novel.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book -- which the author addresses to his son -- has become required reading for anyone seeking more understanding of racism and the black experience in America. Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, writes in eloquent prose of the fear he grew up with as a boy in Baltimore, his growing realization of the vulnerability and plundering of black bodies, and his adult experiences as a black man at university and overseas. A prominent theme throughout the book is "The Dreamers": his term for whites (or as he puts it, people who need to think they are white), whose picket-fence image of the American Dream relies on the exploitation of blacks to be maintained. In one striking passage, he says, 

And all those old photographs from the 1960s, all those films I beheld of black people prostrate before clubs and dogs, were not simply shameful, indeed were not shameful at all -- they were simply true. We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the [black protest] movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.

Strong words -- but any attempt to grapple with racial issues requires that we step out of our comfort zones and really listen to different voices. I'm very glad I read this book. It's poetic, heartbreaking, challenging, and eye-opening. A must-read.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. 
Sheryl Sandberg is a top executive at Facebook (and formerly at Google) and wrote the bestselling book Lean In, which encourages working women to pursue leadership roles. Option B was written in response to the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, at the age of 48. In this book Sandberg draws on lessons she learned from her friend and co-author, psychologist Adam Grant, about working through grief and loss, giving and accepting support, helping children through trauma, and creating more resilient families and communities.

Sandberg has been criticized in the past for being elitist in her discussion of women in the workplace and failing to understand the challenges facing single working women. Here she addresses some of this, acknowledging that she had lacked awareness of how hard it was to parent without a partner. She also acknowledges the enormous financial advantages she possesses as a highly-paid executive; while these did not compensate for her loss, they made her process easier in some practical ways. Besides describing her own journey, which she does in an honest, straightforward style, Sandberg makes a point of addressing bigger-picture issues like health care, child care, and job security. 

I enjoyed this book very much. It might not be well-suited for those who are in the midst of acute grief, but it could be very useful for people who are looking for a way to move forward or are trying to support someone else through loss.

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker. 
I read Shawn Smucker's blog (including his poetry) fairly regularly so was intrigued to hear that he was publishing a Young Adult novel. In this compelling book, a young boy named Sam loses his mother in a freak accident. When he learns about the Tree of Life from Genesis, he tries to locate it, with the help of his friend Abra, so that he can bring his mother back to life. In the course of this quest, he finds himself caught up in a cosmic battle that tests his courage and his loyalty and teaches him a hard lesson -- that perhaps we are not meant to live forever and that Death can be a gift. 

Smucker frames the tale by interspersing chapters from the perspective of elderly Sam, who is preparing to attend a funeral; this technique adds richness to the story. He draws us into a fully-realized world that looks, smells, and feels exactly like ours -- but that is shimmering with magic, mystery, and powerful unseen forces. 

I would recommend this book for readers 10 to adult, with caution about the younger end of that scale depending on what the child is used to reading: there are some scary moments, and the overall tone is heavy and dark, though hopeful. It is not an easy read, and it's a little confusing at times; I had trouble figuring out some of the twists myself. But it is a well-written, suspenseful novel that conveys weighty themes in beautiful, vivid prose. A sequel is in the works as well. 

(Note: I received an advance electronic copy of this book and was asked to provide an honest review.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Two cones instead of three

Later this month will mark three years since Mom died.

Because I moved away from home over 30 years ago, Mom was not directly involved in my day-to-day life for many years. So it makes sense, I guess, that it's when we go to PEI that I miss her most. It still seems so strange that she is not there. 

The strangest part of all, of course, is that we don't stay at the farm anymore, and we never will again. But it's the littler things that constantly jar me. Even when we were making plans for our trip this summer, I kept thinking of how in the past she and I would talk on the phone in advance: she would write down our arrival date and say, "Dad and I are going for groceries -- what should we get? Do the kids still like apple juice? Cheerios? Chicken nuggets?" I always said she didn't need to worry, that we could buy what we needed when we got there! But she always wanted to be prepared with some of the kids' favourites. 

And of course she would make some fresh scones for us to enjoy when we arrived. (Her oatmeal date scones were legendary, so much so that when the funeral home asked what we'd like to put on the blank page of her funeral bulletin, the answer seemed obvious: her scone recipe. SEE BOTTOM OF THIS POST FOR RECIPE.)

Going shopping at Value Village by myself still seems weird too. Mom and I would always make a point of going together. Besides looking for stuff for ourselves, she would ask me to pick a few things up for the kids as their birthday presents and she'd pay for them.

This summer the "Mom's not here" moment involved ice cream. Dad enjoys going for drives and so do we, so one beautiful afternoon we decided to drive up to the north shore and use our Canada 150 pass to get into the National Park. Richard persuaded Allison to come along on this drive by promising that we'd stop for Cows ice cream at the Cavendish Boardwalk. 

As usual, Allison and I were tasked with going in and getting the ice cream for everybody. As we stood in line deciding what we wanted, I had this sense that something wasn't quite right. We were getting three dishes because that's how Dad, Jonathan, and I prefer to eat our ice cream. But why were we only getting two cones? Had we miscalculated? Then immediately I thought, Of course; it's because Mom's not here. Richard and Allison prefer their ice cream in a cone, and so did Mom. She was the most adamant of all that that was the only way to eat it! But now we were only getting two cones, not three.

Sometimes it's not the big moments -- like kids' graduations and holidays -- that make us miss someone most. Instead it can be the simplest things. Like ice cream. 

 Cows' Chocolate Cheesecake ice cream


After I posted this today, my friend Tim Fall asked if I would also post the scone recipe. (He also said he'd have been tempted to call this post "Of cones and scones" -- which is pretty good!) So here is the recipe. This is a single batch size, but Mom NEVER did a single; she always tripled it. 

I believe she originally got this recipe from a cookbook, but I'm not sure where it is now. When travelling in Nova Scotia I've eaten what they call "oatcakes," but those were more cookie-like, not quite like hers. And the ones she made are not the same as the delectable ones I wrote about here, which Mom herself loved; she got very bored with her own scones, actually, but we never did! Scones seem to have played a significant role in my upbringing, when I really think about it ... Anyway, here goes:

Scottish Oat Scones

2/3 c. melted butter or margarine
1/3 c. milk
1 egg
1-3/4 c. rolled oats
1-1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
approx 1/2 c. chopped dates (or raisins or dried cranberries - Mom always used dates. Use more if you like more.)

In medium bowl, mix egg and milk. Add melted butter.

In large bowl, stir together rolled oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut up dates and add them. Add liquid mixture, stir together. Dough will be sticky. Pat it out into a square on a floured board/countertop to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut in squares or triangles. (This size of recipe will make about 12.) Place on greased cookie sheet or on a baking stone.

Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned on top and bottom.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Five Minute Friday: WORK (for my son, who is 15 today)

I'm linking up again with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. Today's word: WORK.


Fifteen years ago today, at about 5:30 in the morning, I gave birth to Jonathan.

It was hard work.

I'd had a caesarean with Allison four years earlier but decided to try a normal delivery with our second. Jonathan was BIG --  nearly 9-1/2 pounds -- but I had a successful, hard-but-fast delivery with no meds other than a few puffs of laughing gas.

I was so proud of myself when I delivered him. It wasn't so much that I hadn't used meds: I have no judgment about that because every baby, every mother, every delivery is different and requires different approaches. But I felt as if giving birth to this big butterball was the hardest work I would ever do.

Fifteen years later, I realize that there are a lot harder things than giving birth to a large baby. One of them is parenting a boy who is on the autism spectrum, who has had seizures intermittently since 10 months of age, who is developmentally disabled. 

But I don't feel proud of myself anymore. I feel very, very humbled and inadequate and a little in awe of this now-fifteen-year-old who gets so excited about the simple things like the recycling truck and seagulls and clotheslines full of laundry, who is so funny and silly and so very exasperating. 

I guess I feel proud of him because he is so good at LIVING and never for one moment thinks that he's been shortchanged in any way. 

Happy birthday, Jonathan.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Five Minute Friday: NEIGHBO(U)R

I came back from vacation to a dead phone line and intermittent internet service, so I am writing this post as quickly as possible in hopes of posting it before my internet goes down again.

The Five Minute Friday prompt this week is NEIGHBOR

Of course, I'm Canadian, so I don't spell it that way; I spell it NEIGHBOUR. That's just asking for a play on words, isn't it. Maybe something like "Being a good NEIGHBOUR is something only U can do!"

I know all about good neighbours. In our "little house on the circle," we're surrounded by neighbours who care for and look out for each other. 

It's tempting to confine the word "neighbour" to the people who live close to us -- people we see every day. But the word is meant to be bigger than that. When Jesus was asked "Who is my neighbour?" he didn't say, "The people who live on your block" or "Those within a 1-kilometre radius of your home."

Instead, he told a story about a man who helped a stranger in need, when those who should have helped turned their backs.

"U" are my neighbour, and I am yours. When we have compassion for one another, we show that we are all connected. We are all neighbours.