Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Day 2018

Advent has ended. It is Christmas Day: Jesus has come!

Here are my final two haikus from my Haikus for Advent series:


O Emmanuel
tucked in a womb, Your own heart
beating next to ours


this night he is born
gulps air, roots for Mary's breast --
vulnerable God


Thank you for following along on this Advent journey with me on Twitter or here on the blog. (See posts for Advent weeks One, Two, and Three.) May the love and grace of Jesus, our Saviour, be with you today and every day.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Haikus for Advent: Week Three

I have been composing a haiku for each day of Advent this year and posting it on Twitter.

Below are the haikus I wrote for Week Three of Advent. (See also Week Two and Week One.)


the candle of joy
is lit; its fire awakens
our cold, sleeping hearts


O Wisdom, show us
the right path; be a lantern
guiding our footsteps


O Adonai - keep
your promise to redeem us
and to bring justice


O Jesse's Son: you
are the one who was promised
and for whom we wait


O Key of David
no one can close what you open
or thwart your purpose


O Bright Morning Star
earth groans in darkness, longing
for light to break in


O King of Nations
reconcile us to yourself
and to each other


Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas 2018: greetings from our family

Dear friends and family,

As Christmas approaches and 2018 draws to a close, I thought I'd write this post to share some brief updates about what our family's been doing in the past year.

Jonathan turned 16 in September and is in Grade 11 at KCVI (Kingston Collegiate & Vocational Institute). He is so happy to be a part of the School-to-Community class there. He has a new teacher this year but the same Educational Assistant (Dylan) as last year, so that continuity has helped. He has enjoyed many outings with his class: they took a day trip by train to Brockville (an hour away) to visit an aquarium; they attended a hockey game and the "Grinch" movie; they participated in Special Olympics basketball and bocce tournaments; and they take regular walks to the grocery store and parks for exercise. (Jonathan is known among his classmates for being a very fast,  enthusiastic walker!) Otherwise his favourite activities are going to the library to pick out DVDs and hogging the couch as he watches YouTube videos on the iPad he got for his birthday.

Allison is 20 now and is continuing her online studies at Queen's. This past year she's taken courses in children's literature, cognitive and social psychology, and world religions. She has adjusted well to the online course environment and seems to enjoy what she's taking, particularly psychology.  

Richard is still working as a nurse at Kingston General (recently renamed Kingston Health Sciences Centre, fyi) and as a clinical instructor for a Queen's nursing course. He's still volunteering every week with Circle of Friends and Run & Read, and staying active by running and playing squash, softball, and soccer. 

I (Jeannie) am still teaching an online course at Queen's,  participating in music and a women's study group at Bethel Church, and doing a lot of writing. I was gratified to have several publications this year: I'll post the links here in case you're interested in checking them out, but if not, feel free to scroll on by! 

- I had a poem published in a print journal for the first time: Relief published my poem "Lakeside, with Jonathan" in its Spring 2018 issue. 

- My poem "Coyotes" appeared in Issue 2 of Barren Magazine. Link here.

- My  short poem "Seen" was one of the winners of Fathom Mag's 40-word poem contest. Link here

- My very short story "Glimpse" was one of the winners of Fathom Mag's tweet-sized stories contest (entries had to be 280 characters maximum). Link here.

- My poem "Daylight saving" appeared in The Bangor Literary Journal's "Spring's Bride" publication. Link (to download pdf) here

As a family we travelled to PEI in August to visit Dad and other relatives for two weeks. We stayed at an AirBnB rental near Dad's (and my brother Lincoln's) apartment in Cornwall, which worked really well; we could walk back and forth to have coffee or supper with Dad and Lincoln, and we had lots of space of our own to relax in. It was one of our best trips in a while and we hope we can make a similar arrangement next time we visit.

We also had a family wedding this year: our nephew Josh Prinsen got married to Jess Davies in July, and we enjoyed celebrating with them and other friends and relatives.

To all our family and friends, we truly hope you enjoy times of celebration and reflection over the Christmas season. All the best in 2019 -- and please keep in touch!

 Photo at top of post taken by Carolyn Prinsen at Josh and Jess's wedding, July 2018.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My year in books: 2018

It's time for my end-of-year book post listing all the books I read this year. In previous years I've sometimes left this post until the very end of December or New Year's Day, but maybe you're still doing some Christmas shopping and would like some last-minute ideas -- in which case my post may be helpful.

My nonfiction list is always much longer than my fiction list, so I've divided Nonfiction up into smaller categories: Memoir/Autobiography, History/Biography, and Other Nonfiction. In one or two cases it was a bit difficult to figure out where a book fit, but in general I find these useful distinctions. Within each category I ranked my books this way:

5/5 (Exceptional)
4/5 (Excellent)
3/5 (Good)
2/5 (Okay)
1/5 (Poor)


Virgil Wander (Leif Enger). When middle-aged bachelor Virgil, who runs a local movie theater, has a car accident that leaves him with concussion symptoms, he must slowly reorient himself to life in his little down-on-its-luck Minnesota town. I grew to love Virgil and his endearing, quirky neighbours. The characters are wonderful, and Enger is such a magnificent writer. I hated to see this book end. (5/5) 

An American Marriage (Tayari Jones). The lives of a young couple, Roy and Celestial, are thrown into turmoil when Roy is unjustly convicted of a crime and sent to jail for ten years. Jones' technique of using alternating first-person narrators as well as letters allows us to understand all the characters' perspectives. The resolution doesn't come easily, but it's satisfying. Such a good novel. (5/5)

 Medicine Walk (Richard Wagamese). Franklin Starlight, a native boy raised in seclusion by a kind non-native man, is called to the bedside of his estranged alcoholic father, who wants Franklin to take him into the wilderness so he can die like a warrior. Beautifully written, haunting book about reconciliation, family, and story. (5/5) 

Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng). The Richardsons' respectable lives are turned upside down when single mother Mia and her daughter Pearl move into their rental house. As in her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, Ng shifts smoothly among the points-of-view of many characters, revealing their motives and secrets.I liked this one a lot. (4/5)

Commonwealth (Ann Patchett). The lives of two families intersect in the first scene, leading to two divorces and two remarriages. The book then follows the six Keating and Cousins children, who've been reluctantly thrown together by their parents' actions. When one of the Keating daughters has an affair with a writer who uses their dysfunctional family story as inspiration for a novel, their complicated relationships are further threatened. Really enjoyed this. (4/5)

Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis). Greek gods Hermes and Apollo make a bet about whether dogs would be more or less happy if they could speak and think like humans. The gods decide to give human consciousness to fifteen dogs they spy in a veterinary clinic and then step back to see how the dogs respond, both individually and as a group. Some thought-provoking stuff here about the concept of time, the meaning of happiness, how we respond to change, etc. -- but overall it was choppy, at times confusing, and pretty bleak. We did this novel in our book study group; I found it quite interesting to discuss, but not especially enjoyable to read. (2/5)



All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir (Elizabeth Hay). This was my favourite memoir this year. As Hay's strong, independent parents rapidly declined in old age and she and her siblings took on a greater role in their care and decision-making, Hay had to deal with challenging family dynamics, hurtful memories (particularly about her relationship with her angry father), and her own desire to be the good, responsible daughter. Beautifully written and so moving. (5/5)

Reading With Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship (Michelle Kuo). Kuo, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, went to teach at a school in Helena, Arkansas, where she worked with some of the country's poorest black students. When a student named Patrick was charged with murder, Kuo began to teach and mentor him one-on-one in prison -- where his self-confidence and literary skills came alive. Wonderful book about friendship, race, literature, and hope. (5/5) 

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Austin Channing Brown). As a girl, Brown discovered her parents had named her Austin so that when she was older and seeking work, prospective employers might assume she was a white man and be more likely to give her a chance. Her desire to explore and celebrate her blackness thus bumped up against her realization that it was disadvantageous to be black and female in America. Brown shares her experiences navigating the unconscious biases and open hostilities of white friends, colleagues, and strangers. So good -- particularly the final chapter, where she rejects white people's insistence that she should be more hopeful, and declares that she "dwells in the shadow of hope." (5/5)

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah). This book by the comedian and TV host chronicles his experiences as a boy born to a black mother and white father (hence his very existence was "a crime") as South Africa was emerging from apartheid. Equal parts hilarious, shocking, and heartbreaking. (4/5)

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home (Amy Dickinson). I enjoyed this memoir by the "Ask Amy" advice columnist; it chronicles her mid-life move back to her small hometown in New York State and her unexpected romance with a local building contractor. (4/5) 

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (Barbara Brown Taylor). When Taylor was an Episcopal priest in a small-town church in Georgia, the joys and demands of pastoral ministry changed her and exposed her own brokenness and need. Although she left her church and pastoral ministry to become a college professor, she gained new appreciation for the reasons people do or don't gather in Christian community and for God's presence in unexpected places. Beautifully written like all of Taylor's books; hopeful but with a sad poignancy too. (4/5) 

Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved (Kate Bowler). Bowler, a scholar who (ironically) studies the prosperity gospel, was forced to confront her own assumptions about success and entitlement when she got colon cancer at age 35. In this book she reflects with candour and humour on facing her diagnosis, the prospect of dying and leaving her husband and small son behind, the things people do and say that do/don't help, and the need to face suffering without resorting to platitudes. (4/5) 

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America (Michael Wear). Wear was was part of President Obama's faith-based initiatives team during Obama's first term in office and worked on his 2012 reelection campaign. Very interesting behind-the-scenes look at Obama's relationship with Christian leaders, the faith-based office's efforts in disaster relief and anti-trafficking work, and controversies over abortion and gay marriage. Calls on Christians not to place their hope in politics, but to bring their faith to bear on all aspects of public life. (4/5) 

Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer (Jason Hague). I thoroughly enjoyed this very real, relatable book about how Hague is walking out the journey of being a father to his autistic son, Jack. (Go HERE to read my full review from earlier this year.) (4/5) 

Fire Shut Up in My Bones (Charles Blow). Journalist Blow tells of growing up in Louisiana with a hardworking mother and philandering father and of always feeling isolated and different. Sexual "betrayals" (his word) by older relatives marked him and spurred his lifelong exploration of his sexual identity and his identity as a black man. (4/5) 

A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (Kate Motaung). Touching memoir of the author's life growing up in Michigan, her move to South Africa and marriage to a South African man, and her mother's devastating cancer diagnosis. I particularly related to Motaung's efforts to support and grieve for her mother from a distance. (3/5) 

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say (Kelly Corrigan). Corrigan shares stories from her own life and relationships, focusing on hard-to-say phrases like "I don't know" and "Tell me more." Quick, enjoyable read with some profound messages. (3/5) 


Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Caroline Fraser). This Pulitzer-winning book looks in-depth at the true life story behind the Little House on the Prairie books -- a story that in many ways is quite different from the tale of pioneer triumph and self-sufficiency that Wilder told. We also get a firsthand look at Wilder's problematic relationship with her daughter Rose and the strange collaborative process by which they composed the Little House books. A thoroughly fascinating exploration of one of our most beloved writers and her books. (5/5) 

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle (Sarah Arthur). This reflection on the life and work of the author of A Wrinkle in Time (and dozens of other books) is structured according to interesting paired concepts like Fact and Fiction, Sacred and Secular, etc. It reveals some of the contradictions of L'Engle's life yet reinforces her status as an influential writer of faith and imagination. (4/5) 

Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart (Claire Harman). This was fairly interesting -- but having already read Margot Peters' much more engrossing Bronte biography An Unquiet Soul (published in the 70's) a few years ago, I didn't feel I got anything really new from this 2015 book. Even the title sounds too much like Peters'. (2/5) 

Other Nonfiction: 

So You Want to Talk About Race (Ijeoma Oluo). A fantastic book for anyone who wants to engage in conversations about race but doesn't know how, is afraid to offend or be offended, or just isn't familiar with the issues. Oluo discusses white privilege, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, the school-to-prison pipeline, and many other topics. Informative, challenging, and a little uncomfortable. (5/5) 

Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work (Alison Green). I like reading Green's online "Ask a Manager" column, so when I saw this at the library I picked it up. I enjoyed the straightforward advice (useful in many areas of life, not just work) and the odd-but-true stories about people's workplace experiences. (4/5) 

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth (Chris Heuertz). This book on the Enneagram system of personality focuses on the Enneagram's role in helping us engage in contemplative practices of solitude, silence, and stillness. Thoughtful, pastoral, and visually appealing.  (4/5)  
No longer endorsing this book because of multiple accusations against Heuertz of psychological and spiritual abuse of colleagues, friends, etc. -- June 2020.

The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships (Suzanne Stabile). This book by the co-writer (with Ian Cron) of The Road Back to You focuses on how the nine different Enneagram types behave in relationships and how to understand and relate to types that are different from our own. Really enjoyed this. (4/5) 

Self to Lose, Self to Find (Marilyn Vancil). This clear, accessible book on the Enneagram, written from a Christian perspective, explores the nine types, the three centers of intelligence, the authentic vs. adapted self, and Jesus' invitation to disown ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. (3/5) 

Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (James Breakwell). I enjoy Breakwell's tweets (@XplodingUnicorn) about his life with his wife, four young daughters, and pet pig, so I thought it would be fun to read his book -- and it was. If you want to "raise happy, healthy children in a world overrun by the undead," this book is for you. (3/5) 

I'd Rather be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life (Anne Bogel). This small book by the "Modern Mrs. Darcy" blogger consists of short essays about various aspects of a reader's life: waiting for your library reservations, reading the right book at the right time, living next door to a library, etc. Bogel's previous book, Reading People (an informative primer on the most popular personality-typing systems) was excellent, so I expected more substance than this book provided. It's a pleasant light read for an afternoon, though. (2/5) 

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jordan Peterson). I made my way through this at-times unreadable 400-page book so you don't have to. Peterson's twelve "rules" -- bits of folksy advice encapsulated in profound-sounding chapter titles like "Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today" -- are buried in overwritten, pompous, at times creepy prose. If the book's self-aggrandizing introduction (oops, "Overture") doesn't put you off, his first chapter, about standing up straight like a lobster (huh?) might. It's disturbing but really not surprising that Peterson has been so warmly embraced by the Incel crowd, considering that his book's central polarity is order (masculine) vs. chaos (feminine). He comes across as obnoxious and sexist. I would not recommend this book at all. (1/5)

WHEW. Where was I? Well, I guess I've come to the end of my list. Thanks for sticking with me right to the end! I hope you've found some interesting things to add to your gift list or your own to-read list. 

And if you've read any of the above books and want to share your own opinions -- whether in sync with mine or not -- please do so in the comments.

Hope you have a great reading year in 2019!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Haikus for Advent: Week Two

As I explained in my last post, I am composing a haiku for each day of Advent this year and posting it on Twitter. 

These are the haikus I wrote for Week Two of Advent. 


peace candle wavers
but does not go out. pray for
migrants fleeing war


coloured lights glowing
in the window, softening
the edges of night


expectant, we wait,
hardly knowing what -- or Who --
lies at waiting's end


he scatters the proud
topples rulers' thrones, lifts up
the humble of heart


the hungry are fed
and the Lord does not forget
to be merciful


its head now engaged,
the baby will soon be born --
and this is our God!


He in whose image
we were made is himself made
into our likeness


Saturday, December 08, 2018

Haikus for Advent: Week One

At the beginning of Advent, I decided that I would compose a haiku each day for the duration of the Advent season and post it on Twitter. Here on the blog I will post the previous week's poems at the end of each week.

My approach to this little project is pretty simple: each day I just choose some image or word to focus on related to Advent, Christmas, winter, nature, etc. I'm not linking them thematically one after another in any way beyond that. And I am not really holding myself strictly to all the traditional rules of haiku: I'm just using the pattern of seventeen syllables (5 - 7 - 5) to structure the poem.

Here are the haikus from Week One:


Ordinary  Time
ends and Advent invites us
to be still, to wait


light the hope candle
its flame pierces the darkness
small but persistent


L'Engle calls Advent
"the irrational season":
faith, not certainty


child kicks in the womb
Mary moves slowly these days
highly favoured one


air swirling with snow
the sky is gray: nighttime
flees late, falls early


come, Immanuel
let your love and justice break
the curse's power


ground and trees are bare
creatures store up winter food
to feast on later


I hope you enjoy these tiny poems. You can check back here in a week to see the haikus from Week Two -- or you can follow me on Twitter, if you're not doing so already, to read them day by day.