Thursday, December 24, 2009

In Anticipation of Christmas

From our family to yours ..... Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent Banner

Last August I was asked to design a quilted banner for our parish for Advent. Here is the finished project. It involved lots of hours of loving labor from myself, and four other women from our parish. The quilting was done by machine. The finished size is a little less than 24" wide by almost 20' long! My intention in designing it was to bring a sense of the joyful anticipation of Advent. Symbolically, there are the purples and pink with the "light" of the candles. The star is paper pieced with 12 points in order to symbolize the crown of 12 stars associated with Our Lady. The star was also designed to "fall" toward the crucifix, pointing the way to Christ, the same as Mary does for us. Quilted on the banner are the seven "O-Antiphons."
"O Sapientia" or Wisdom is the first one. At the top is "O Emmanuel."

Our next project will be a banner, same dimensions, for Pentecost. Any comments and suggestions are most welcome.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Singing and Dancing

Last weekend Mary was a bit rushed with both a ballet recital, and singing with the Sweet Adelines' "Christmas in Vegas." You can see a bit of the strain on her face. Both shows were enjoyable and a nice way to begin December.


Quite a few years ago we resolved to paint before we moving into new digs (when possible.) This new house is no exception. All the bedrooms, except Peter's were various pastels. The other two bedrooms were pastel green, and baby pink. Mary's was lilac, ours was a nursery baby blue with an equally offputting wallpaper border. Those two are now a light tan, and our bedroom is a darker brown.

Peter added dark gray to the slanted ceiling. Mary opted for "Jamaican Sea" instead of purple!
Slowly the boxes are being opened, stuffed, errr ... I mean put away and we are getting used to all our new elbow room! Woke up to a covering of snow on the ground, but it has now become a steady drizzle. Just hope that doesn't freeze on the roads before Mary and I get back from her Young Women in Harmony practice this evening!

Thanksgiving, Painting, Moving

We celebrated our US Thanksgiving, with plenty to be truly thankful for. Here are some shots of our meal, and how our house looked! We closed on our house the Tuesday before, and spent Wednesday and Thursday morning painting. A few more pictures of the house will follow in my next post.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Still Here

In case you are one of those kind souls that check in on my blog ... rest assured we are still around.

I last posted before the wedding. It was beautiful! Unfortunately, our pictures turned out to be terrible. We have a wonderful set of photographs, and once I receive the cd from the bride, I'll post a few of our favorites.

Trip home was okay, except for leaving my beautiful mother-0f-the-bride dress hanging in the motel room closet in Arkansas. Needless to say (but I will) it was one of those times I wish I had been my usual snotty self and actually checked the closets after hubby said everything was taken care of.

We visited Chicago, and loved it! Expensive, but other than that, it was beautiful weather.

Made it home -- well, almost home -- but got to sit at the border for over 2 hours waiting to cross. In the process my air conditioner konked out. Several visits to the dealer later it was resolved. Warranty was taken care of except ... other than a letter informing us it was closed out we haven't received the check.

Both kids are back busy with some activities. I volunteered to help with a project I'll share on later. Anyone who asks me for help right after Mass always gets a yes, even when I really don't know what I'm doing. So far it is coming along beautifully ... pictures later.

We've plunged into the London real estate market and will be moving into a new-to-us house the end of November.

It blows my mind to realize that 2 years ago we were living (and shivering) in Peru. A year ago we were packing up our belongings for the trip north to here (being stalled by the arrival of Hurricane Ike), and almost ready to jump in the car. Now a year later we are settling in, and moving for what we hope is a place to stay for a bit.

Okay, that catches you up, sorta. More later. I hope your own family is being abundantly blessed!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Symantics, Again

Living in Canada has presented the downside of socialism front and center to us. We witnessed a bit of a more severe form in Peru, and can definitely see the leanings in the States. I've alluded to our frustration at the lack of actual health care access, even though our family income supports a "free" system of healthcare. Symantics - health insurance does not ensure health and more than welfare ensures fewer poor families.

The London Free Press newspaper and the internet are my sole sources of current events. Adjusting from a relatively conservative way of thinking in Texas to a relatively liberal way of thinking in London was rather jarring to my senses. I'm numb to it now. There is a very, very strong sense of entitlement here. The sad fact is that all this entitlement means higher taxes, ensuring that more folks will need the entitlement, meaning higher taxes, and in the end a hugely bloated government employing more "supervisors" and "overseers" than private industry.

One recurring theme in the newspapers concerns the environment. CFL's (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) have irked me from their inception. We are told they will "save energy." Here we are facing legislation that will make it illegal to purchase regular incandescent light bulbs. I can picture the hoards of folks trying to smuggle 60 watt bulbs across the border as I type, and smile at the silliness of it all.

Okay, symantics. Can we actually "save energy?" In short, no, we can't "save energy." If we could how about shipping our saved energy to countries that lack sanitary water systems because of a lack of this precious energy? How about gathering all our "saved energy" and letting it do good where folks could use the benefits just to have a bare existence? The reason is that you can't save energy the way you can save money, which is another topic for another time.

What we can do is consume less energy. We can become more efficient -- but we cannot save energy, anymore than we can save sunshine. We can only consume less. I prefer doing this voluntarily, rather than in the punitive manner espoused both north and south of the US/Canadian border.

Oh, and punitive measures abound here in the north. We have used cloth bags for groceries for a few years now. To "make" people comply our grocery stores started to charge 5 cents per plastic bag. I notice this past weekend that one store was charging 10 cents.

In order to drive a car we need to carry car insurance, plus get a pollution check. I want to breathe clean air, just like the next guy, but when I found out that there were several loopholes in the check system, I became incensed. Busses here belch pollution but are exempt. If a car is older than 7 years, they are exempt. If you can't afford to repair your car, you can be exempt. Vehicles that run dirty also use more diesel or gasoline to get from point A to point B. One more irksome idea floating around our community involves penalizing folks who let their cars idle. Now, that sounds great in concept, none of that nasty pollution boiling into the air while the car isn't going anywhere. But, remember that a lot of people here live in apartment buildings, without weather protectionsfor their cars. A whole lot of folks here do not use their garages for cars, opting instead to keep them stuffed with stuff. In the wintertime ice can get pretty thick on the windows, so many folks will let their cars idle at least long enough for the defrost to help clear the windows so they can drive safely. Not allowed now. Trains criss cross the city, often blocking intersections for up to 15 minutes at a time. Nope, idling not allowed. In fact one of the city council folks proposed a 1 minute limitation on idling. How about stop lights??? So they are now considering lengthening it to 3 minutes. I just know that the constructions crews that use diesel equipment will receive exemptions, and they should. You can't just turn diesel powered equipment off and on without destroying the engine.

Plus, get this, it takes up to 10 times as much "energy" to restart an engine than what would be consumed while idling during an equivalent time period. If there is a car belching pollution, then jerk it off the road. Give the person a bus pass if necessary. Okay, I've calmed down.

So, it really isn't as much about reducing pollutants spilling into the air as raising revenues, and being punitive in the process. I understand that human nature is fallen. I have witnessed folks doing and partaking in activities that are not in the interest of their fellow humans. A simple example is tossing used food cartons from a moving car.

Litter was the huge push when I was in grade school. There were campaigns calling our attention to how unsightly litter was along our streets and highways. And I agree completely. Between high school and college I worked on the State highway road crew for the summer. One of the less desirable, but necessary jobs, was to go out and empty trash cans on the highway. That was over 30 years ago. Yet, still today there is vast evidence that people still litter. Personally, I can not understand the mentality that says it's okay to have the items in your car while you are eating food, but entirely okay to jettison it when you are finished.

For a far more intelligent commentary on the current jargon about "saving the Earth" please read Father James Schall's essay for today, Wednesday, July 22 at The Catholic Thing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Counting Blessings

With Tom out of town this entire week I have found myself griping. Not to the kids, but inside my mind. This needs to stop, so today I'm going to blog my blessings. No complaining allowed.

Before I begin the count, let me digress a bit and peek back at where I was earlier this week. We've decided to pursue becoming home owners here, and this past weekend we drove through various neighborhoods and stopped into a few open houses in order to get a sense of the variety in London.

Right after our Monday phone call from the broker giving us a green lift my usual manic self took over, trying to create comparison sheets for MLS listings. By Wednesday our realtor went with me to look at the inside of 5 different houses. That was time well spent, though many of my assumptions got blown out of the water and several concerns popped onto the radar. Not the least of which is the fact that a lender will not let us get into a home with less than 10% down. That changes the landscape a lot, considering we still have two daughters at a private Catholic university, plus their apartment, utilities, etc. to support. Not to be unpatriotic, but we an only hope the US dollar weakens enough for parity with the Canadian dollar. The exchange rate is steep!

This morning while I was walking with our son to his job, we started to talk about what type of house would be good for a new home. As we walked along, it occurred to us that we do not need to be in a rush. I didn't have to go through last year's task of getting our possessions, kids, and pets ready to move out of Peru, and having all the intricate web of details to have to fight our way through! We don't have an impending cat 5 hurricane breathing down our necks. It isn't like 7 months ago when we were frantically trying to find a new rental house, right after we had moved to London, before winter blew in. Our first rental had been a card house collapsing as each new "surprise" was revealed. In fact, life has been rather calm, and dull lately by comparison to our past 12 months.

So, as I walked back home, alone in my thoughts, it came to me that we are not in a bad place right now. If we do not get into a hurry, the right house will come along. Our landlord is nice, will let us out of the lease early if need be. She will likely let us just go month to month once our lease if up in December. This will give us time to really look, save money, and not jump too soon.

Tom will be in by midnight tonight, the best blessing right now. Here are a few more, in no particular order:
  1. Our weather has rained just enough to avoid having to drag long hoses around to water the lawn. It has also been just cool enough to make my daily walks pleasant.
  2. We get to breath relatively clean air here. Our neighborhood is quiet!
  3. Our house isn't huge, making it a snap to keep picked up. Our teens are great helpers, taking over tasks when asked, and sometimes surprising me with jobs done without having to be asked.
  4. I thoroughly enjoy chatting with all of our kids! They are interesting and interested people with good hearts.
  5. Tom has his dream job, keeping him on his toes, and letting him do what he is gifted to do. He is also racking up airmiles that enable us to fly our girls for visits, and me back to help make wedding plans.
  6. Our oldest daughter is getting married in 2 weeks! We'll get to visit with a lot of family and friends as we celebrate. Plus, our family will grow, and I need not be pregnant at 53! We are also looking forward to a nice, rather leisurely drive north on our way back to Canada from Texas.
  7. Our other two daughters are relocating to a different apartment, costing us less money for rent, and giving us some peace of mind with a bit of a less "interesting" neighborhood.
  8. My close, dear friends make the effort to stay in contact with me.
  9. We are able to live our faith without fear. We have a choice of Masses to attend, as well as parishes.
  10. We are meeting and becoming friends with many families who have similar values.
  11. It is nice to be able to just drive where I want without having to ask my chauffeur! We can walk and not feel threatened. Did I mention we breath clean air?
  12. Other than some poison ivy, we have little to fear in the outdoors here. No rats, sewer back-ups, iffy water supply, copperheads, fire ant mounds, killer bees, very few cockroaches, and so few mosquitoes that I am surprised when one does show up!
  13. We have a choice when and where we shop for food. I can trust that labels are accurate. We can recognize the products and still try food that is new to us. Milk, eggs and meat does not taste like fish!
  14. The local library system lets me browse shelves discovering treasures, or search online, reserve and have them delivered to our local branch, all for free!
So many of these things, until I experienced a lack of them, held little value. Some of these blessings are so common I forget to recognize them for what they are. All in all, the times I get grumpy and start to crab about living so far from family and close friends reveals how small I really am inside. My perspective gets readjusted each time I meet families who face challenges I can only imagine. I am certainly not asking for any crosses. These teensy little irksome things that my small mind gets sidetracked and focused on are just toothpick size by comparison.

My ancestors were immigrants leaving oppression for freedom, folks who crossed the Oregon trail on foot going days with fresh water, all lived through privations I can't begin to imagine. I hope I humbly learn by their examples, and be someone whom they would want to call their own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Failing at Humility

Random thoughts jumble through my brain this morning. So much has happened, and much more is looming in the near distance. Yesterday I had my second visit with our new doctor. She is not an MD, as they are impossible to see here on Canada's national socialized health care system.

In many ways, that has been a mixed blessing. We still take care of our own maladies. Fortunately we do not have serious health issues, other than high blood pressure for Tom. When I first visited with Dr. N, my concerns had a lot more to do with slipping away from my own natural lifestyle. She is helping me regain perspective and be brave enough to look honestly at choices.

Gray hair is compelling me to begin having professional coloring. Oh, vanity I suppose. But more that Tom has asked me to pay a bit more attention to my appearance. So, I am beginning to move in that direction, as well. Wrinkles, creases where I really don't want them, gray hair, thinning eyebrows, dry lips all face me each morning in the mirror. My eyesight requires glasses, but only for objects far away. As a consequence I see a crystal clear image in the mornings. Some days I can get fixated on the outside, and that is when I stare only into my eyes reflectioning back, and remember that I need to pay far more attention to the inside, physical and spiritual.

Part of Dr. N's reminders involved exercising. Walking up and down half-flights in our house do not count, though my knees might protest that it really is exercise. And, as things usually do work out, M and P both landed a wonderful babysitting job within walking distance of the house. But, not close. So I walk with one or the other to the job, return home. Then four hours later, I walk to pick them up, then back home. The distance is close to 4 miles every day.

My first week killed me, in that I had to rush the last 2 blocks (after being tired!), unlock the door, push our wild dog out of the way, and dash upstairs to the bathroom. Whew! Getting older in plenty of places! But, I noticed today, after walking for 2 weeks now, I am doing much better. Arthritic feet and knees are responding better, I can actually put some pep into my step, and some of the jiggle is calming down!

Okay, spiritually, I recited a Rosary on the way back this morning. Halfway home, on the narrow sidewalk walking toward me were three women. An older woman with two younger ones. As they came closer I realized that they were not going to move over. So I stepped onto the grass to the side. Unfortunately, as they passed, instead of being humble (like I really knew I should have) I glared at the young woman who walked so close to me her arm brushed my side. I am not given to prejudice, or dislike of folks from other cultures. But, I will say that it might have been a cultural thing for these women, because as the young woman walked past her eyes had a look of triumph. Hence, my glare. Failure ... She "won" and I "lost." But, not in the way she thought. The meek shall inherit the earth ... I have a long way to go toward being naturally meek and humble, may the Lord keep me moving in the right direction.

Complaining has lately risen inside me, and that is another place I definitely need to exercise humility. While my friends in Houston are weathering hot, hot weather, I have been blessed with balmy days to take these walks. I have nothing to complain about! How silly I can get about having to keep learning a different approach to life here in Canada. So, more lessons in humility and meekness. Just don't expect me to begin apologizing for everything, even when it is not my fault. That is not meekess, but the tendency of my Canadian compadres to do this drives me batty. If you think you might need to apologize, don't do whatever it is in the first place. And if you intend to do whatever it is anyway, don't bother apologizing because you really don't mean the "sorry." Humility ... I have a long way to go on this path!

Most of my complaints are not about living in a different place. They really are more because I am in an unfamiliar culture, and each glaring difference tends to smack me between the eyes. I finally remember to ask where the washroom is (not the restroom) in public places. Times when I have to respond with more than two words, I cringe inside, just because I know my "American" presence will be detected. That is usually met with a clouding of the eyes, and a subtle but not nice change in how I am then treated. Humility. Hey! Clue here, I did not vote for Obama, and I do not believe that Canadian's get free health care any more than I believe that you are denied health care in the US unless you have a credit card. Insurance does not guarantee actual access to health care.

Tomorrow we are going with a realtor to look at a few houses. We've decided to plunge into owning a house here. Sticker shock is still getting me, as well as the extra money we'll have to come up with because we choose to remain US citizens living in Canada. We hope to locate an ideal home, but know that reality will fall short. Still, with diligence I hope we find a neighborhood where we fit in a bit better, don't need to witness the Indy 500 on the street out front, or overhear family fights in Chinese from the house next door.

Tom is in Yellowknife this week, and when he called last night about 9 our time, he said they have plenty of bright sunlight. At least I can count those blessings, that we are in a nice community in Ontario, and not living closer to the project. Winter was hard enough for us after having lived apart from snow and ice for close to 9 years!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shopping for "The Dress"

Yes, uncharacteristically of me I asked my husband and son to accompany me to the dress shops here in London last Saturday to shop for a "mother-of-the-bride" dress. My trusty long sleeve black velvet wasn't going to be quite right.

Initial shopping began with two bridal shows, one here in London when our daughters were visiting at Christmas. The other in Houston in February. I also looked when my daughters were here in March trying on bridesmaids dresses. None of what I saw were my style. Most were heavily beaded, jacketed, straight no-shape dresses. That, or very revealing, making me wonder if these weren't reserved for a mother looking for a new husband! Nothing that shouted "me!"

Okay, back to my Saturday adventure. The first shop we visited is considered to be a very well stocked, respected dress shop. I was greeted by a woman who was nothing like me (perhaps my first mistake.) She "allowed" us to go upstairs, practically told my husband and son where they could sit, and not move, then she showed me her "all time favorite, versatile" dress. It was a long haltar top, with lots of beading! When I protested that it was a church wedding, and I preferred not to have bare arms or back, she came back with "you can use a wrap." No, I shook my head, I preferred a more modest style. After proclaiming nothing like that existed, she reluctantly moved me to the shorter dress area. Not once did she allow me to simply look.

That was another step on a swiftly declining slope of customer/saleswoman relationship. She then took me over to the suit-straight dress- side on the store. All the time she was warning me that she had a lot of experience, and if I didn't find something in her store (like she even allowed me to look!) I simply wouldn't find it in London. I was also informed that perhaps I just needed to "go buy a pattern and make my own dress."

The first dress she selected made me look like a huge pink square. I refused to even emerge from the dressing room. The pushy saleswoman mocked me from outside, and was insisting that I "must show her how it looked." I declined.

The next dress was only okay. Not stunning. It was a rather gray-brown, dull taupe color. By then I came out, modelled for Tom and Peter, and then the woman assured me that if I had worn something other than cheap cotton underclothes it would look much better.

So she measured me, and came back with a one piece - struggling to fit into it - strapless undergarment. Struggle, I did, and all I could imagine was trying to feel comfortable on a hot sticky August evening in Houston. The dress looked terrible. It would need some major fitting, which she assured me was good because well made men's clothes all are fitted. She also informed me that I made nothing but negative comments about my body (because I desired to dress modestly???) and that all I really needed were the proper undergarments.

I explained that my policy is always to wait 48 hours before making large purchases, she again tried to tell me that if I wore the dress twice, the cost was cut in half. Huh? No wonder the world economy is in trouble. Newton's 3rd law of physics was rapidly becoming reality. The harder she pushed, the more I rebelled. After being insulted, told I had a bad body image, that I was actually saving money by buying clothes (that had no price tags!) and that I was lucky to have her guide my decision I had quite enough.

By then, I had already decided I would wear my black velvet before I ever graced their doorstep again. Sheesh! Do wealthy women like to be treated like they are stupid? Did this woman have a clue that you simply do not make fun of a woman's preference for modesty?

The next store and sales woman were much kinder. I did try on a wonderful pair of high heel peep toe shoes I'd like to own. But, when I saw their price tags, adding up the outfit we came up with, the cost was well over what we were spending for Elizabeth's wedding ensemble. Not my idea of fiscal responsibility. I am a stay-at-home mother and I simply can't justify spending money for clothes I could sew myself for substantially less money, and of much higher quality.

Good news is that Sunday I jumped on the internet, found a suitable, though maybe not "perfect" dress at the JCPenney outlet store. Gosh, if I do my math right that means I "made $1000". lol. My economic good sense prevails. Unless I find the "perfect" dress in the week before the wedding I'll be in Houston, I'll be wearing my $35 bargain dress, and thoroughly enjoying the party.

And for the Susan J company here in London ... I will never darken your doorstep again, and definitely never recommend your store to my friends. They deserve more than to be browbeat, and told they have no style. Beauty comes from within, not from spending money you don't need to spend.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

At What Point?

Recent family events and dynamics have caused me to ponder quite deeply, and pray as fervently, for answers to the question of “At what point do you let them go?” We’ve been parents for close to 24 years now, and our oldest daughter is within six weeks of her wedding. The tension, to say the least, has been intense.

A new acquaintance, unrelated to our current circumstances, posed this question to her parents. “Did you ever feel the need to counsel us before we married?” Her question was valid. Her parents felt it was not their position to counsel, and it was good for their children to make their own mistakes. Huh? Until a recent conversation with my own father, I thought they were out in left field. Apparently, at least for that generation of parents, this is a common belief. Because he was hurt by the decisions of some of my sisters, he now feels quite strongly that we do not provide counsel, and must let them make their own mistakes. I can’t say that I quite agree. So far my life has been spent helping our children learn about what the dangers are and how to avoid them.

Our choice to use family centered home education stemmed not just from a desire to provide a healthy alternative to the current system of releasing our children into a system bent on molding them into a factory model, but also from a deep desire to share in their development. We both wanted to allow them to mature at their own pace, with their own interests, to broaden their worlds beyond the politics at the local PTA meeting, or the sidelines of the t-ball game.

My own efforts to provide counsel to our children have sometimes proven to be sad occasions for confrontation. In part, I do believe this is society at its schizophrenic best, telling parents to be parents, all the while urging children to ignore them. We are told to stay within arm’s reach for toddlers in the water, but then to be the bank financing a wild evening out for prom night. My mind often flips back to a Star Trek episode of a society that was required to push their young adults into the streets at night for an evening of “Festival” because this is what society insists on. We resist.

There is such a cacophony of voices competing for our adult children. They want to experience the world and life, we want to help them be wise. My father counseled me to allow them to make their own mistakes. Well, I certainly made many of my own, but knowing how much potential harm I managed to avoid by sheer dumb luck, my heart tells me to still provide counsel.

Though my counsel has been taken in with ears that didn’t hear what I said, I still need to be that mentor. The heart does strange things to conversations between mothers and daughters. We speak, as mothers, our daughters ignore as young wild things wanting to be free. As mothers we see the dangers, while our daughters see only freedom. They see the honey, we see the bees.

So, once again I am asking, as what point do we let go? Or can we ever really let go? What we desire is success in attaining heaven for all our children. At least, this is what I want. The world, instead, wants our children to leave the nest, say good riddance, and then slam into the wall. When they do, rest assured the world will be there pointing fingers back at the mothers and fathers who it will claim didn’t care enough for their young ones to guard and protect them.

We have seldom listened to the world in areas conventional and taken its wisdom as wise. So, here, too, I must insist that our job as mothers (and fathers) does not magically end when our children become adults. However, I do understand there is a time when stepping aside will come. My only question is, when? I suspect it will continue to be a balancing act of respecting our emerging adult children, and spending plenty of time on my knees in prayer.

So, my dear children, if I foresee danger, rest assured I will speak. But, also know that while you live your life as God intends, I will refrain from trying to right my own wrongs by being heavy handed in my approach. May God remain in your thoughts, and may your guardian angels remain vigilant!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Thoughts on this Trinity Sunday

I only have a few moments, as we are about to visit Rona (think Canadian version of Home Depot) and our new favorite meat market Pasquales.   If we planned correctly our weekly grocery shopping won't need to happen until tomorrow evening.  Doing any shopping on a weekend is only for the brave and foolhardy, imho.  

Yesterday we all decided to treat ourselves to a movie.  The new Disney, "UP" is right up on our favorite movie list.  One of the London theaters was recently rejuvenated, and we watched this movie using silly 3-D glasses.  It was a lot of fun!  

My faith in the Disney corporation moving back toward Walt's original desire to uplift families is coming back for me.  This movie was so sweet!  If you want your own uplifting experience, go watch this as a family.  Keep in mind that our youngest is practically 13 - very little children really might find it a bit intense.  

Well, I hear Tom's footsteps, and now his voice.  Time to go.  More later.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Strangers, Speakers and Spectacles

Howdy!  We are back from a whirlwind visit to Houston to help celebrate our first daughter's graduation from the University of St. Thomas.  Fortunately, we weren't "treated" to any diatribes similar to BO's at Notre Dame!  The commencement speaker was a bit on the pc side with regard to his ideas, but not over the top.

Some comments I've heard recently (both here in London, and along our travels) that I'd like to share.  If for no other reason, than I'd like to be able to look back at them later on.

At the airport, "Attention.  Please do not accept parcels from strangers who you do not know well."

That one caused me to pause, and raise an eyebrow.  Isn't the definition of "stranger" someone you don't know at all?  How can a person be a stranger if you know them "well?"  For that matter who in their right mind would accept a parcel from someone at an airport knowing how much most in charge are actually eagerly looking forward to exercising their "right to protect us?"  Just too funny,in a sad sorta way.

Friday evening we attended the UST Baccalaureate Mass at the new Co-Cathedral.  Daniel Cardinal DiNardo presided and gave a (as usual) stirring homily.   He began by first congratulating those who were graduating with honors.  Then, "And some of you are graduating by the skin of your teeth.  Congratulations!"  Too right, Cardinal.  I was one of those "by the skin of my teeth."  The entire Mass was beautifully planned, and executed.  The music was incredible!  With a definitely sacred sense of humor the recessional hymn was "The Strife is Over."

The post-Baccalaureate Mass reception at UST was outside on campus, and pleasant.  A nice jazz band playing in the background, and plenty of tables with food and visiting.  The area we sat in though, was handicapped in the illumination department.  A few items my brain interpreted differently than my mouth caused some interesting contrasts!  We found out that in earlier years they actually provided a sit down meal.  Must be cost cutting measures that help explain the rise in tuition next fall!  Perhaps the next graduation we'll be invited to brown bag it.

I take back all I said about Texans not being rude.  Or perhaps, those who were, aren't from Texas but only visiting like we were.   But for those two ladies at the dessert/coffee table all I can say is you would have done well at the Bioferia in Peru on Saturday mornings among the maids!

The usher at Reliant Arena in our seating section was so patient.  She would repeatedly need to tell folks they couldn't stand in the aisles to take pictures, but could stand by the wall.  One particular couple thought all they had to do was nod, smile, stand where she directed for a few moments, then try again.  This went on, comically, for about 10 tries.  It got so bad that one of the other people seated in our section started to shout for them to sit down!  But, incredibly, they just never "got it!"  How oblivious can someone be?  How so self-absorbed can anyone be not to realize that while they were getting what they wanted, they were blocking the view of several other people who had as much right to see unobstructed as they?

The clincher at Graduation, though was a woman receiving the Alumni award.   She wasn't slated for any speaking time, though the presenter definitely was ... and definitely spent more time reminiscing about her own years at UST before finally drawing out a largely unnecessary speech about how wonderful her two recipients were. (I didn't time it, but I bet her speech was close to the commencement speaker's in length.)

Then the woman who received the award on behalf of herself, and her brother, proceeded to march right up to the podium, and introduced herself by stating that she knew they hadn't come to listen to her, but she just had to say thank you.  And "I won't keep you long, I know how much speaking has already been done ..." and proceeded to talk for another 5 minutes!!!  In addition she managed to put in a publicity plug for donations.  Incredibly insensitive for someone who had just moments before been extolled on her humility and sense of service to others!  Lady, this wasn't your day ...  At least future years won't need to be subjected to her "not speaking" but then speaking for a long time!!

Don't get me wrong.  It was a very good visit.  I am just struck by a person, every now and then, who doesn't seem to be either aware of others, or completely insensitive to those around them.

One last beautiful sentiment to share!  The week before we left Mary and I attended the first meeting of what we hope becomes a Catholic Girls' Club.  Whether it actually becomes a reality or not, we were definitely blessed to have visiting two novices, and one sister who will be taking her permanent vows next year.  They are beautiful women, so soft spoken, so gentle, so kind - genuinely kind.  The order is new: "Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate."  They have a website, too:

One of the novices, during her "journey to vocation" talk said the most intriguing thing with regard to Our Lady.  She shared that while her family was Catholic, they weren't seriously so.  Her knowledge of Mary was not well formed, and she struggled with the true place of Mary in the life of Jesus.  Then this beautiful gem of wisdom came from her, "I realized that Our Lady is like a perfect pair of seeing glasses.  She doesn't place a barrier between me and Our Lord, she focused me, and helps me to see Him as He is.  Clear and without distortion."

Have a beautiful day!  

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just Doing Our Best!

Tom and I are doing our best to raise great kids. Part of that task is discerning what they eat. I shudder to think back on the variety of "new foods" I ate while growing up. I turned out okay. But, back then all we were dealing with was foods that were mishmashed into new forms. The threat today extends down to the genetic background. We make our own choices, and this is where I am a huge advocate that foods need to be honestly labeled. If someone has deemed that I "need" to eat corn that has been genetically modified to resist pests, I want to know. I have no need for a "nanny" to tell us to just "trust us!"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

It all started with the peaceful close to our Good Friday.  We had been busy with house cleaning, sorting, and other quiet activities.  By 2:40 we were on our way for services.  Wow!  Plenty of folks were already at the church.  Tom dropped us off, and went on to find a parking spot.  After services we walked 4 blocks to where he parked the car.  During services we were in the overflow area, watching via television the services taking place just above our head in the main sanctuary.  

Beautiful, prayerful, deeply moving service.  I was moved to tears by the day's observance of the crucifixion of Jesus.

So, we return home.  Here in Ontario, by law businesses are to be closed.  Sometimes I just wonder about the laws.  While I totally agree not to shop myself on sacred days, I find it such a puzzler in this socialist society that Good Friday is given the same mandate as "Family Day" back in February.  Not complaining, just puzzled.

Once we returned home it was time to fix our meal to break the fast.  If I remember, I'll post the delicious salmon patties we created.  It was an inexpensive meal, but tasted as if it was much more costly.  Of course, our fasting might have contributed to our perception!  

Afterward, after going over travel plans for May and July (graduation and wedding) I proposed that we all take a drive out to enjoy the remainder of Good Friday.  Tom one upped me and proposed that, instead, we use our "new to us" bicycles and take Mary and Peter on a ride around the neighborhood.

Now, these bicycles are something Tom has wanted for quite some time.  We found a gentleman here who refurbishes bikes, and after looking at them bought two for $90.  Of course, I didn't give mine the test drive it probably needed, since I have never had much of an athletic bone in my body.  Tom, on the other hand went through three before finding one he liked.   I am one of those that should never buy a car on her own!  When the man we bought them from suggested I just keep the left shifter in one position, because I really didn't need the other gears, I actually thanked him!  Well, duh, the shifter didn't work, and I spent the first half of our ride trying to get it into a gear I could actually use!

It was so nice to be riding our bikes.  The weather is still a bit nippy, but nice for getting out into the fresh air.  Perhaps because of the holiday, most folks were either gone, or staying at home, so traffic was not heavy.  Mary and I fell a bit behind because Tom and Peter were in a quiet competition to see who could outrace the other one.  As we came around one corner we saw that they were beyond a road barrier, on new streets for a new portion of the subdivision.  Mary asked about how we got around it, and I thought that if they were that far they must have just ridden their bikes around.

As Mary came up, she commented that she thought it would be better to walk our bikes around it.  Foolish me!  I said, no, we could just steer around it like the guys did.  (Found out later that they had walked theirs, too!  I wonder who is guilty of competition?)  

As I began to steer past the barrier my depth perception, and confidence suffered.  Mary, wisely waiting to see me make it watched a piece of construction debris kick up under one of my wheels. I veered, and the bike lurched from under.  I fell pretty hard.  I think the third worse moment was right before I fell, knowing how hard it would hurt.  

And hurt it did.  My right knee, head and hands took the brunt of the fall.  If I had just fallen on plain dirt, it would have hurt.  But because I fell onto a jumble of broken concrete paving, rocks, etc. I had plenty of contact with surfaces far harder than my head!    

The pain was intense, to the point I thought I might just pass out.  When I looked up and saw Mary's fear, though, my mind rallied.  It took a bit to get past the deep, deep shock and pain of my knee and head.  Slowly, I was able to stand.  Mary wheeled my bike out, and we decided to just leave the guys and ride home.

On the way back, I felt shocky.  Nausea and pain made me keep breathing as deep as I could.  By then my knee was numb, but other parts of my body began to call in their distress.  After almost being backed over by a teen driver darting out of his driveway, and avoiding another car insistent that he owned the road we got back home.

Tom and Peter of course, by then, realized what had happened.  They all pampered me!  My right knee was skinned up, though my jeans were untorn.  At least no imbedded rocks.  Can't quite say that about my hands!  I even had rocks falling from my hair as I was getting ready to take a nice, hot soak in the tub that Tom had drawn for me.

So, lesson learned!  I'll get back on board.  Praise be to God!  I offer my discomfort, aches and pains.  I also thank God for this family that took care of the Mom!  

I hope your Easter is the season of hope it is for your own family and life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Slippery Monday of Holy Week

Last night was my last meeting with a beautiful group of women.   I've come to know each of them just a bit, and have received a deep reconviction to return to and deepen my prayer life.  The study we used was "Women of Grace" by Johnnette Benkovic.

When I first mentioned beginning this study to a friend in Houston, all she shared was that it was quite challenging.   I puzzled in my mind exactly what she meant.  Now I know.  If you aren't afraid, and you need not be, check out this wonderfully affirming and challenging study.

Our Holy Week begins with more icy rain and snow.   While growing up in rural Nevada, and living there again with our children it was never unusual to have a snowy Easter.  In fact, for the longest time I really believed my Dad that the reason we color Easter eggs was so we could find them in the snow.  Of course, we did get to experience plenty of glorious springtime weather for many Easters!

Last night I drove through light rain mixed with snow to my meeting.  When I came out of the church to return home, I almost lost my footing!  The parking lot was covered with a slick icy coating.  It reminded me of the ominous black ice that could be present on Nevada roads in wintertime.  Looked dry, but definitely was trecherous!

After I slid to the side of my car, it was covered with ice!  Fortunately, my trusty scraper was still in the pocket of my driver's door.  Unfortunately, I had neglected to keep my gloves, thinking foolishly that spring meant no more scraping.   My hands really were none the worse for having to clear the windows.  When I got home, it was nice to remember that today our activities were confined to inside the house for most of Tuesday and Wednesday.

I hope Easter springs up bright, warmer and beautiful.  Whether the weather cooperates or not, I do know that Easter will arrive.  Now to concentrate on making the most of our Holy Week!  The Triduum has grown to be one of our favorite times to celebrate being Christian, especially Catholic.  Holy Thursday Mass, opening with the presentation of the sacred oils, joyfilled songs, and closing with the solemn reposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  Waiting, adoring silently, and then leaving for home in silent reflection.  Good Friday -- having the solemn service, venerating the cross, praying for so many, trusting that the Passion will always lead us to the Resurrection.  Holy Saturday, preparing our Easter treats, having food blessed.  Then dressing for Easter vigil.  Wearing our new clothes, waiting in the dark for the Easter fire to be lit!  A glorious sweep of light -- hearing the readings leading us through salvation history -- the light!  Watching, praying for and celebrating with catecumens anxiously awaiting their baptisms, first Eucharists, and  Confirmation!  

We watched one year as a young woman, who was also one of our engaged couples, danced with hard to suppress joy through each part of "her" Easter vigil.  Her exhuberance will be firmly planted in our family's memories!

Easter morning, still setting up the Easter egg hunt, always one egg missing (we learned to count them early on), helping with overflow crowds at Mass, praying silently that each heart is touched and that they know how welcome they are all the time!  Returning home for our family tradition of sweet almond bread and coffee.  Preparing our Easter meal, enjoying not just our chocolate bunnies, but each other's company.  

Celebrating and embracing each day of the Easter season with some small treat, some small rememberance, sacred music, candle-lit dinners!

Well, you can see that I'm definitely looking forward to Easter this year.   Our family hopes that each one of you can and will embrace the remainder of Lent, seek out Triduum rites, and continue to seek our Risen Lord!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Learning New Customs

Last night provided another of those awkward moments.   Each place we've moved to, we have had to discover what the nuances of local phrases and customs mean.

In Peru, naturally, we found several differences.  Even moving from Nevada to Texas provided other changes.  Our move north to Canada has given us more.

My awkward moment came when I arrived at our study group hostess's home.  After getting settled in she offered a beverage.  I was thirsty, so asked if I could have a cup of tea.  There were only tea cups set out, no drinking glasses or pitcher of water.  After selecting a tea I enjoy, I waited for my hostess to provide the hot water.  But, it didn't come.   Definitely a bit disconcerting.

Apparently in Canada (at least here in London) when offered something to drink it is more polite to decline.  Filed away for future reference, and a reminder to drink water before arriving.  At our break time, she again offered a beverage, which I did receive.  Then she had a nice little tray of crackers and cheese, stressing how good the cheese was.  Taking her at her word I selected three crackers and three small pieces of cheese.  Apparently this was another faux pas!  

Slinking back to my seat, I did find the cheese to be wonderful and commented positively.  Silence from the other women, a disapproving silence from one.  Sigh.  Another note: eat before you come, and only take the same as everyone else - which was one cracker and one slice of cheese.  Just so you know, the slices were very small, as were the crackers.

I'm learning.  But, all I can say is I much prefer Texas hospitality.  But, we live in Canada, so now I simply live and learn, remembering to have both my thirst and hunger satisfied before venturing out.  

Friday, March 27, 2009

What's Spring Break Without Snow???

Most of our "Spring Break" weather here in London was pleasant.   Our pictures of Niagara Falls show the bit of chill, but it was a far cry from the frigid January and February we had just ended.  When we picked Meghan up on Wednesday the weather remained nice.  Thursday, however, was a bit of a different story.   Friday our weather turned London balmy, again.  All in all, we had a very pleasant week with two of our older girls visiting.

Fencing Classes

Last night Mary and Peter completed class #6 for their 10 lesson introduction to fencing.  They are both doing well.  Peter has wanted to take classes since visiting his sister Liz's team practice at University of St. Thomas.  Mary was iffy until last night's class.  She came out exclaiming, "That was the best ever!"
They are learning to fence epee, but using foils.  Okay, that's as far as my knowledge goes.  But, they are thoroughly enjoying this sport.  The club that is sponsoring the classes has members from about 10 to 75!  They come in to begin their practice as this class is winding down.  We are finding that this might be a wonderful sport to pursue well beyond our homeschool years.  I may even take it up next time around for the introductory classes.

First comes stretching, then practice on form, and finally practicing on each other.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maple Syrup Sugar Bush Adventure

We've just returned from breakfast at the Fort Rose Maple Company.  This seemed rather appropriate for Meghan's and Kate's quick visit during their Spring Break.   These pictures are from a visit Mary, Peter, Tom and I made to the Fanshaw Kinsmen's Sugar Bush about 2 weeks ago. The first one shows the older method of boiling down the sap into syrup.  To the left side is one of the two Belgian's pulling the haywagon that took us out to the sugar house.  It was plenty cold then and the sap was running free and easy!   While we've seen plenty of tree buckets with taps along our drives, the lines you see at the Kinsmen's Bush are more modern, and quick.  This series of lines is a collecting point for all the trees across the road from the sugar house.  Fanshaw Kinsmen Bush utilizes a low pressure pump to pull it to a line high enough to allow the horse drawn wagon to go freely to and from their entrance.  The biggest threat to the lines are the deer running through, ripping them away from the spigots.  

We learned that the window for gathering maple sap is short, as narrow as the ideal temperature range for optimum production.  Sap begins to run when the temperature run in the narrow window of 5C high and -5C low. Higher than that, or lower the production isn't as abundant or swift.  After tapping the sap, the long tanks boil out the water, and requiring at least 70 to 1 for the final maple syrup product.  We all agree ... maple syrup is by far preferred to the usual high fructose corn syrup product marketed as pancake syrup.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Niagara Falls

Kate flew in on Saturday from Houston, and Sunday we drove over to see Niagara Falls.  Here are some pictures of the five of us on our quick tour, starting with the view from our room.  

This is definitely a place we want to return to.  Given that this is the first weekend of the Ontario schools March break, hectic is insufficient to describe the mob at the hotel.

Houston Shopping with the Bride

Here are Liz's future mother-in-law, Carrie, and my daughters Katherine, Elizabeth and Meghan.  We are at Kraftsman's cafe for a quick breakfast before the Houston Bridal Fair on Saturday morning.  My visit was certainly short, but I was able to touch base and visit with a few friends.  Friday Liz tried on several dresses and found "the one!"  Looked so pretty on her.  I remember that same feeling all those years ago when I tried on the wedding dress I chose.

Late on Friday afternoon the three girls and I drove up to our old neighborhood in Copperfield.  We enjoyed the first fish fry at Christ the Redeemer.  Another opportunity to enjoy the Knight's fantastic fare and visit with several of our old parish friends.  We were also given the grace to have a personal tour of the new church building with Debbie Maglicco, the liturgy director.  Beautiful, beautiful church.   We are looking forward to returning in May for Peter's Confirmation, and again in August for Liz and John Paul's wedding!

Later on Friday evening my good friend Rebecca Hill and I attended the UST play, "Charlie's Aunt."  It is such a fun farce!  Kate was stage manager, and Meghan was house manager.   Saturday was the bridal fair followed by the vigil mass at St. Basil Chapel on the UST campus.  Early Sunday I was dropped off at the airport, and made it back to Tom, Mary and Peter by early evening.   Quite a long day of quiet following three days of intense activity.  God is good!

As always, never enough hours in the day.  But, we accomplished all that I needed to, and had plenty of time to just enjoy each others' company.  So, in the end, we had plenty of time.  

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March Miracle

Well, Tom's fellow office mate who assured us that March 1 the melt begins in London was right!  What we have now are swiftly diminishing dirty snow drifts that look like ice stagmites.  All the grass is emerging, matted down from all the snow.  The wind, though, is still quite icy and bites right to the bone.  
Our predicted high today is 15 C (~59F).  Quite a nice, pleasant surprise after what seemed like unending snow storms and growing drifts.   I am certain Peter looks forward not having any more driveway shoveling duty.  No snow means plenty of mud, though.

This Friday we will be joining with other area Catholic homeschool families for First Friday!  This time around we will have the joy of dry roads, as opposed to the icy ones in February.  

Take care.  I hope your own winters are winding down as spring is close at hand.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We're Having a Heatwave!

I'm sharing some pictures taken on Monday.   A heatwave?  Well, we will be seeing above freezing weather the next few days around here, and rain beginning tomorrow.  At least, that is the current forecast.  Monday  our cooperative classes were cancelled because of a predicted snowsquall.  Fortunately, that didn't happen, so instead we spent our morning doing physical education by shoveling off the driveway!  This picture shows that our snow piles out front are indeed shrinking, though the back deck photo shows what happens when no sunshine shines on the snow!  It is on the north side of the house, and while it gets no sunshine right now, we are hoping it means for cooler summer dining al fresco!  

So many exclamation points!  The reason, I suspect is that I am excited about tomorrow.   I will be boarding a jet in Detroit and landing in Houston at 5 pm to visit with our Houston based daughters.  Definitely a heat wave for me!   So much fun, and yet, sad, too.  Just wish we could all go down together.  

Mary and Peter stay home with Tom.  He gets to take them to their fencing classes.   Fencing as in learning the fine art of swinging an epee at an opponent, as opposed to vocational class.  
They will  take in a Knights hockey game on Friday night and have another visit with the family catechism group (which I wish I didn't have to miss).

In the meantime, I'll be taking care of Houston business, hoping to connect with more than a few friends while I'm there.  And just relishing my short time with our daughters.  They are awesome young women!  Well, at least in Tom's and my eyes.   

Meghan is picking me up at the airport and will be spending as much time that day as she can with me.  This weekend she will be camping with her fellow St. Augustine residents and the FSE's.  (Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist who oversee the Augustine program.)

Friday I will be trying to sort out college financial aid, and tuition issues at UST, pay property taxes, drive by our Houston house and visit with friends!  That night I'll be attending the UST drama production of Charlie's Aunt with my good friend Rebecca.   Kate is stage manager, and she tells me via phone that it is an exhausting job that is far more work than being on stage as an actor.  I know she is up to it, and it gives her the perfect opportunity to legitimately boss people around.

Saturday Liz, Kate and I will be heading to the extravagant bridal fair at George R. Brown convention center.  We'll be joined by Liz's future mom-in-law.  It should prove to be a wonderful morning.  With luck, too, I'll be able to visit our "home" parish, and attend Mass on Saturday in their new church!  I'm definitely looking forward to being able to be inside the new church instead of just peering through windows, as we did before our relocation north.

Sunday sees me in airports, flying back to Detroit, then on the bus back to London.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That "Odd" Smell

Our Houston house finally has renters!  That is a huge relief for us.  It has been touch and go since September 1, first trying to offer the house for sale, and then the end of October to begin locating a good renter.  

Back in July when Tom accepted his current job in Canada, we were in Peru, and had only two months before made arrangments for our daughters to continue living in our Houston home with a room mate.  That all changed quickly, and their new room mate happily reunited with her own parents.  We located an apartment close to their campus for the girls to rent the first of September.

The end of August, just prior to Tom leaving to begin his new post, we signed papers to sell our home.   Of course, this all happened prior to the Sept 9 weekend economic meltdown!    I stayed with the kids, and kept the house show-ready, and worked on getting us ready to move to Canada.   My Houston friends will definitely recall that in between we all experienced the winds of fury with Hurricane Ike.

One of the realtors who showed the house remarked on their showing report that the house "reeked, and my client refused to look beyond the front door."  My feelings were definitely hurt since I do pride myself on keeping a clean home.  Several things went through our minds, including how much neglect (unintentional, but neglect nonetheless) happened the previous year when we moved to Peru and left the care of the house to our daughters.  

Before we made the move north in October we terminated our "to sell" contract, and signed with a new realtor to find renters for us.  Slowly, more folks came to look, but none decided in favor of renting the house.  Fortunately a family with similar relocation circumstances contacted our realtor in hopes we would be amenable to their own pets.   

Then, come the first of the new year, with various delays for the tenants, we are told there was an "odd odor" and they were hesitant to move forward with the deal.  Yikes!  So, in desperation our realtor actually got down on his hands and knees to see if he could determine the cause.   The carpets upstairs had been professionally cleaned, but still had a very, very faint animal scent.  But that wasn't the "smell."  Then several possibilities were considered.  Could it have been the resin from the replaced hardwood floors?  Could it be mold?  How about unflushed drains?  A huge variety of ideas were thought of, investigated, and discarded.   At one point the realtor's wife brought a restoration person in to see if he could detect what it was, and see if he knew how we could solve the problem.   He assured her it wasn't any of what we thought it might be.  

As they walked in, the restoration tech asked if there had been a fire in the house.  She said, no, not her knowledge, so he didn't have any ideas.  Fortunately once she returned home and as she readied her oven to clean she was struck by the exact same smell.  At this point she called me, and I said, yes!  

Right after we returned from Houston to Lima last June, our girls experienced a fire in the oven of the kitchen range!  The house wasn't damaged, and other than a bit of heart pounding until the electricity could be turned off the girls were okay, too.  It was summarily replaced and since they had no visible damage outside the range, so we didn't think much more about it.  But, this was the source of "that smell."  The restoration company set up an ozone machine on a Tuesday evening, and by Wednesday morning our realtor said the house smelled wonderfully fresh!  I am amazed that even for a shortlived, contained fire, how it could rapidly permeate the house.  

The good ending is that our renters went through with the final deposits, and are now beginning to move south.  We hope they enjoy our neighborhood as much as we did.  I know they'll enjoy the Houston springtime! 

Please note: using an ozone machine is best left up to professionals.  A good review of various air filter options can be found at Dr. Mercola's website.