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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Appearance and Reality

   In university I was an English major.  We were taught to take note of “irony,” especially in plays by Shakespeare.  Many times the audience is aware of something that the actors in their roles do not know.  This adds a special kind of humour to the words that are spoken and actions that are done out of clear ignorance.
   In life, we are like more like the actors in a theatrical production than the audience.  We are not all knowing.  The things we do and the judgments we make are based on appearance, while the reality is often quite different.
   For example, someone who knows just a little bit about me would perhaps be shocked that I have and wear a fur coat on cold winter days.  How could an advocate of simple living be so extravagant?  What that person may not know is that I have been wearing that same coat for 20 years; it was given as a reward for my labours at my parents’ mink farm to that point. 
   Some patrons of the food bank where my husband works may appear, on the surface, not to be needy.  This can cause potential donors to grumble and feel that the system is being abused.  But as my husband often says, “Nobody wakes up in the morning and proudly says to himself, ‘I’m going to the food bank today.’”  A patron who drives a nice car pulls into the parking lot to get food.  She seems well off and well dressed.  However, she confides in a food bank employee that she never thought she would come to get food assistance.  Her professional husband left her, and she has no access to bank accounts or cash.  She cannot eat her car or her fine clothes, so in an emergency she comes for help.  Another patron has a dog; one might say he would save money if he had to feed only himself.  Yet having a canine companion makes living alone bearable for this man.  One more patron receives a lay-off notice and admits that he has been living the “Canadian lifestyle”—living from paycheque to paycheque.  In the three weeks it takes for his employment insurance payments to begin, he truly is destitute.
   Since I have been on the receiving end of judgments based on ignorance, I’m trying to be more careful not to draw negative conclusions about others.  God knows the whole story, and I can leave it to Him.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


This summer my husband and I have been learning more about bumblebees.  A nest underneath our front step means that when we sit there, we can observe their noiseless take offs.  We can also watch their deft landings, which are accompanied by a glimpse of the load of yellow pollen on hind legs.
   We cannot actually see the nest, but judging by the amount of activity during the day time, it is a full-size colony of at least 50 bees.[1]  Our front garden, adjacent to our front step, contains a few vegetable plants, but the plant nearest the step is producing the most beans.  We wonder if we should thank our fuzzy boarders for that.  Although bumblebees collect nectar and pollen and thus contribute to pollination of crops, they make only enough honey to feed their young.  Unlike honeybees, bumblebee hives do not survive the winter but start over again each spring with a queen that has hibernated on her own.
   Taking the time to closely observe the little creatures of our world can help us grow in appreciation for their Designer.  Basil the Great (330-379), who was a church bishop in Caesarea is quoted as having said, "If you speak of a fly, a gnat, or a bee, your conversation will be a sort of demonstration of His power whose hand formed them; for the wisdom of the workman is commonly perceived in that which is of little size." 

[1] According to www.kentbee.com, it is rare for a colony to grow beyond 70 individuals

Saturday, 24 August 2013

My Children Love Spinach...and Kale, Swiss Chard, Collard Greens, etc

This recipe is a simple and terrific way to serve any kind of greens.  It has a few variations, which are be listed at the bottom.  It is originally from the More With Less Cookbook, compiled by Doris Janzen Longacre, where it is called “Spinach Loaf.”

Preheat Oven to 350˚ F.

Cook briefly and drain well:
            2 cups frozen chopped spinach
            8 cups of fresh greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, or combination)
Make a white sauce in sauce pan over medium heat:
            2 Tbsp margarine (melt by itself first)
            3 Tbsp flour (add slowly along with salt, using a wire whisk)
            ½ tsp. salt
            1 cup milk (Add when margarine and flour is bubbly; keep stirring until thickened)

            Cooked greens
            White sauce
            2 eggs, slightly beaten

Pour into buttered casserole and bake 35 minutes or until set.

Variation 1:  Saute one onion in the margarine before adding the flour, salt and milk.
Variation 2: Add grated cheese to the white sauce.
Variation 3:  Stir in a can of drained salmon or tuna, flaked with a fork before placing in the oven.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Family Night Ideas

Several years ago my husband and I began the weekly practice of having “family night” with our children every Saturday after dinner.  Although we already eat supper together every night, we wanted to add something more intentional to bind us together once a week.  It started out with the adults planning each activity, but now all five of us take turns being “in charge.”  If you’re looking for a new family routine that doesn’t have to get boring, why not consider some of these ideas:

1)      Go for a walk around your neighbourhood.  If you want to give a focus to the walk, it could be looking for beautiful plants or little insects, picking up litter, praying silently for neighbours as you pass their homes, or tracking the number and types of dogs that are out and about.  Consider bringing a snack along to share part-way through the walk.
2)      Play a board game together.  Some of our favourites are Carcasonne, the Settlers of Catan (this one has many different variations), Artifact, Boggle and Anomia.
3)      Play tree tag at a park.  One person is “IT.”  If you are touching a tree, you cannot be tagged, but the idea is that players will be running among the trees whenever “IT” is not looking at them.
4)      One person makes a list of 8-10 general words, such as “bear,” “funny,” or “music.” After the person reads one of the words, each person has to get an object from somewhere in the house that is associated with that word.  When everyone has returned, all the items are set down.  The group votes to say which item best represents the word.  For example, “bear” might bring things as diverse as a jar of Kraft Peanut butter, a teddy bear, and the storybook of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
5)      Set out plain note cards or drawing paper.  Each family member writes a card or draws a picture for someone they know that needs cheering up.  Either mail or deliver these promptly.
6)      Cooperative story writing.  Each person begins with a blank piece of paper and writes a sentence that could start a story.  As the papers are passed, a new writer adds to the story.  At the end, read the stories and laugh together at how zany they become.  With younger children, you could do progressive drawings instead.
7)      Family book share.  Give some advanced notice of this activity so that each family member can tell a little bit about the book he or she is currently reading and read aloud a small portion of it.
8)      Cycling.  There are many creative things you can do in this category in addition to taking a trail or biking to an ice cream store, such as having a coasting race down a hill (how far can you go without pedaling) or a slow race on level ground (who can go slowest without losing their balance).
9)      Family Feud on the Internet.  Gather around a computer screen and work together to come up with the most popular answers to the survey questions.
10)  Act out a skit or read the parts of a play as “reader’s theatre.”  Old school readers may be a good source for plays.
11)  Invite some neighbours to join you for “make your own” ice cream sundaes.
12)  Stick races.  Go to a river, stream or city storm waterway with flowing water.  Each person finds a stick to drop into the water at the same time.  Walk along as the current moves the sticks downstream to see whose stick goes fastest.
13)  Creative building.  Gather one set of identical items for each family member.  For example, a black LEGO brick, a piece of string, an empty yogurt bucket, a spoon, a Popsicle stick, and a paperclip.  The people separate and put the items together in their own creative “scene.”  After everyone is finished, take a tour of the scenes and receive an explanation of what each scene is depicting.
14)  Make a 500 piece puzzle together while listening to some favourite music.  For younger children, a few smaller puzzles to do together may be better.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Things We Leave Behind

One of my favourite singers, Michael Card, sang the following:
            We can’t imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.
   I don’t want to take his words out of context, so I should say that he was talking about Simon Peter, who left behind his family fishing business and Matthew, who left behind a lucrative job as a tax collector, both in order to follow Jesus.  I’m starting to understand by personal experience how this can apply to me.
   Almost ten years ago my husband and I left something big behind, a family business where cut flowers were grown, a big swimming pool, a four-bedroom house my husband had lived in all his life, and our network of familiarity.  It was something we had to do in order to follow Jesus’ particular call on our lives.  At the time it was very clear that we had to “change direction,” but many of the details came into focus only as we walked that road of obedience.  The “freedom” we found and are still finding is paradoxical.  I’m sure that what we did made no sense to outside observers, but it was the right move for us.
   Fast forward to the start of a new school year.  After five years of being an enrichment teacher (first as a volunteer and then paid), I gave up this position.  I will continue to teach my Junior Kindergarten class two days per week.  When I felt led to resign from this job, it was totally counter-intuitive.  Our expenses are the same or more, so why would I voluntarily reduce my salary?  This position, though small, was my passion.  I was convicted that leaving it behind was an act of obedience to God for this season.  Some new opportunities are coming into view—a service trip to Dominican Republic in January, part-time work as a copy editor that I can do from home, and the opportunity to join a group that is visiting inmates at a women’s prison.
   When God calls us to leave things behind it can be scary because we easily place our security in the things we know.  However, the freedom and adventure of following the unexpected ways he leads us is incomparable...


Saturday, 17 August 2013


   I imagine that former refugees would not understand why on earth people would choose to go camping.  They probably remember living in tents as a fearful time forced upon them, and I can understand their point of view.
   When I go camping, however, I find it therapeutic. Here are some of the reasons:
  • When I go camping I realize that I don’t need half of the things I have in my house.  I am forced to live more simply.  Preparing food, going for hikes, playing games, and enjoying fresh air without a strict schedule is good for me.
  • Camping shows me how to be resourceful, with my husband’s help.  Since we do not own a plethora of camping gadgets, we try to manage as best we can with what we have.  On a recent trip, we took four lawn chairs for five people; I didn’t mind at all sitting on a box when they were all in use.
  • Camping places me outdoors.  Too often I tend to spend my days walled into buildings, even when I could theoretically take a task outside and do it there.  In the summer, I ought to spend more time in the creation and notice all of the God-made things that are found there.  Camping reminds me that in many warm climates houses are small because they are basically meant for sleeping in at night.  The rest of the time is spent outside.  I wonder how much we are missing by living in buildings as our default mode.
  • Similar to the Israelites of old, camping can be a spiritual journey of sorts.  The annual “Feast of Booths” was basically a week-long camping trip to commemorate wilderness wanderings and celebrate how far the Lord had led them in their settled existence.  Camping can be an enriching time with more solitude and time to listen to God’s voice.

 Please leave a comment and share what you like best about camping.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Author Profile: Eric Walters (b. 1957)

   Most of the fiction books I choose to read are those written for children ages 10-15 years of age or those with a “young adult” designation.  I’ve found these books most enjoyable because I don’t have to worry about bad language, violence or sexual content.  The best author I have found in youth fiction is Canadian Eric Walters.  His writing is authentic; for example, when he wrote about a young man’s trek in Just Deserts he first experienced a similar trip for himself.  Canadian history comes alive when Walters chooses this backdrop for his story.
   Another thing  I appreciate about this Canadian is his heart for Kenya.  He has developed a charity that partners with Africa Inland Mission to reach children in need through the Creation of Hope.
   In 2011 I set a goal of reading every book that Eric Walters had written, but I am now at 59 out of 77.  Since he continues to write at an incredible pace, it is difficult to keep up with him!  I’d like to review three of my all-time favourite Eric Walters works: 

Camp X Series (2003-2010), which includes Camp X, Camp 30, Camp X: Shell Shocked, Camp X: Fool’s Gold and Camp X: Trouble in Paradise

   These exciting stories of two brothers (George and Jack) occur in the midst of World War II espionage.  The historical events at the base of these works of fiction are fascinating, and the author cleverly builds suspense in each novel.  I also feel a strong connection to these stories because the site of Camp 30 (Bowmanville, Ontario) was down the road from where I lived for almost ten years. 

Elixir (2006)

   This story is based on the discovery of insulin by Sir Frederick Banting and his associates in the early 1920’s.  Through the eyes of twelve year old Ruth, it deals directly with the issue of using animals for medical research and shows personal glimpses of the scientists involved in this life-saving scientific breakthrough. 

Shattered (2007)

   Eric Walters deftly brings together a teenage boy from Toronto, a homeless man and the Rwandan genocide in this novel.  It opens the door for the reader to gain international understanding and compassion instead of quick judgment.  Highly recommended!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Little Known Regrets II

   This second story about regret is not an isolated one.  Scientific advances that one researcher intends for good can be taken by someone else and used for evil.  I am reminded also of Albert Einstein's dismay that his breakthroughs in the area of physics led to the devastation of atomic bombs.

   I recently learned about the French geneticist named Jerome Lejeune, who discovered in 1959 that an extra 21st chromosome is what causes the condition of Down’s Syndrome.  He received awards and much fame after his finding. 
   However, he quickly discovered that his research was being used to do genetic testing on pregnant women.  As a result, those showing the trisomy-21 condition were being recommended for abortion.  A 10 year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome he knew from his practice was also aware of this trend and felt a strong solidarity with the plight of these pre-born babies.  He pleaded with Lejeune to “save us because we are too weak.”
   Even though it cost him all the prestige and credibility among his professional peers, this kind-hearted and devoutly Catholic man began to speak up for these children, pointing not only to the immorality of abortion but also to the potential that these children have despite their disability.  Lejeune campaigned internationally for the sanctity of life during the remaining 35 years of his life.  
  “They brandish chromosomal racism like the flag of freedom,” he once wrote. “That this rejection of medicine—of the whole biological brotherhood that binds the human family—should be the only practical application of our knowledge is beyond heartbreaking.”[1] 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Little Known Regrets I

Most of us have experienced regrets about something we have said or done that led to negative events.  While misgivings are inevitable in our lives, they usually remain private and unknown to others.  When certain regrets belong to a more public figure, however, they may reveal something remarkable.  In the course of the past month I came across two such stories, and I will share the first one here.
   Admiral FitzRoy was the captain of several navy ships, including the HMS Beagle famous for its five-year journey that included the young Charles Darwin.  Admiral FitzRoy was a dependable sea captain, who never lost any of his crew.  He was also interested in science, including taking precise weather measurements and observing plants and wild creatures.  He invited Charles Darwin to join the expedition that went to the Galapagos Islands among other tropical places.
   Although Darwin’s previous education had been in theology, he was a keen naturalist as well.  However, as both FitzRoy and Darwin observed the natural world they came to “vastly different conclusions”[1].  Where FitzRoy marveled at God’s design for each creature that enabled it to thrive in a particular environment, Darwin reasoned that small changes within a species could be extrapolated to explain the origin of life through purely natural processes.
   After Darwin published his famous book On the Origin of Species, Admiral FitzRoy was distressed and took various opportunities to write and speak out against it.  On one auspicious occasion at Oxford (UK), a debate was taking place between Darwin’s disciple Thomas Huxley and Reverend Samuel Wilberforce (son of the William Wilberforce who spearheaded the campaign to end the slave trade).  From the back of the room Admiral FitzRoy walked up to the front holding a large Bible.  He explained how he had known Charles Darwin and proclaimed, “Believe God rather than man.”
   In a letter to a friend, Fitzroy expressed regret at having invited Darwin to join him on their shared expedition.  I found this worthy of pondering.

[1] As quoted from the documentary film entitled The Mysterious Islands: A Surprising Journey to Darwin’s Eden.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Three Days of Rural Life

In each issue of the monthly magazine entitled Country Woman the editor Ann Kaiser writes about her visit to a farm of one of her subscribers.  She does not just describe the scenery or give production statistics, she works alongside the farm owners and gets her hands dirty.  Through her stories, the readers become more familiar with a variety of different types of farming, from livestock to food crops.
   I just returned from a three-day visit to a farm where my sister and her husband began raising mink about two years ago.  A mink is a small carnivore prized for its fur coat.  I should say that visiting a mink farm was not a totally new experience for me.  I grew up at the same property, where my parents raised mink until 2006. 
   This time I did not go just to enjoy the vistas and the quiet evenings.  I went there in order to work.  I was part of an incredible team that caught and vaccinated all of their animals over two-and-a-half days.  Catching a mink is no small feat.  First, the catcher wears thick leather gloves to avoid being bitten.  The animal is frightened, so it squeals and squirms.  It also releases a musky odour that sticks to your hair and clothing.  My sister and her husband were the two catchers, and they had incredible stamina.  Compared to their job, mine was easy.  I wore a lab coat and acted as the veterinarian, giving each mink a dose of vaccine. Other important team members contributed by doing assorted helpful jobs, such as opening cages and troubleshooting when the needle was not working properly.
   In reflecting on these days I realized anew that farming is not a profession for the lazy.  Even though pieces of equipment help make some of the work easier, there seem to be just as many tasks to fill the day from early morning until quitting time around 6:00 pm.  The summer season is one of great intensity, and yet these farmers persevere.  It is honest and satisfying labour; it is work that allows you to see your progress, most of the time.  I’m so proud of my brother-in-law and my sister as they continue this farming endeavour.