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Monday, 30 June 2014

Motorcycle Ride with a Difference

from the website: http://shore2shore2014.com/
   Between the Great Lakes, a motorcycle ride is raising awareness about the problem of pornography this summer.  From June 29 to July 12 the riders in Shore2Shore WITH A ROAR will stop in the following centres: Kitchener, Strathroy, Dunnville, Ancaster, Belleville, Williamsburg, Lindsay, Clinton, Sarnia and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
They will have gatherings in the communities to start a conversation about a topic not often discussed.
   Sexual images dominate billboards, films and websites.  On top of that, we are becoming desensitized to this content.  The fashion magazines at the check-out line and in doctor's waiting rooms have become more explicit, and yet they are there at the eye level of anyone who can walk.  As mobile devices become the norm for adults and children alike, the access to pornographic material via the internet has never been greater.
   Traditionally a medium that appeals to males, women have sought "equality" here too.  Whether it is images or written content, pornography degrades God's good plan for human sexuality between two committed individuals who love each other.
   It is time for the church to speak out, not just to the "world" but to its own members who have been caught in the destructive grip of pornography and need help.  The motorcyclists who are ROARING against pornography are sharing their stories and encouraging families to talk about how to safeguard their homes and minds.  Like any addiction, pornography initially promises great pleasure at a little cost; however, it eventually takes over one's life and mars marriage or dating relationships.  The message of these riders is also one of hope. It is possible to break free from the grip of porn by the power of the gospel, along with specific help and support.
   It was my family's privilege to provide lodging and breakfast to one couple taking part in this ride.  By staying at home on the Canada Day weekend, we gained the opportunity to support the message the riders are bringing on the roads they travel and the meeting places they enter.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Review of Journey Through the Night

   The classic Dutch book Journey Through the Night (Reis door de Nacht) was commissioned after World War II.  The male author, whose name is Anne DeVries, was already known as a writer of children's literature, including two story Bibles for different ages of children.
   It has been available in translation since 1960, but I never picked it up until this year.  I read one disparaging review on the reading website "goodreads" and would like to answer some of the criticisms:

  • "The characters were non-realistic and too good to be true."
When the book was written in the 1950's, it employed a style that was perhaps more interested in showing virtuous people than novels are today.  However, the types of things that John DeBoer, his father and other members of the resistance do in the novel have been attested by many sources.  This type of heroism is not too good to be true.
  • "They also had too much luck."
The author is writing from a point of view that presupposes the sovereignty and providence of God.  When characters have a narrow escape, they recognize that God was with them, not luck.  When a reader does not share this outlook, it can appear that such things could not really happen.  As well, this book will befuddle the reader who does not believe in moral absolutes or divine justice. 
  • "Moreover the writing style was too abrupt."
Perhaps some of the criticism of writing style lies with the translation.  Mr. der Nederlanden translated it over 50 years ago; as such some of the language and style may be dated.  Being a translator is not easy, especially with creative writing, so I am willing to overlook some of these shortcomings.
  • "Anyone could have written this book."
I strongly disagree.  The author shows a thorough understanding of the Dutch people, according to its various regions, the variations between cityfolk and farmers, the tension between those who collaborated with the Nazis and those who resisted.  One town mentioned frequently in the book is "Assen," which is also the author's home town.  The setting is authentic as are the accounts.

   What I appreciated most about the novel was the coverage of the first several days of occupation.  In history books it receives just a few sentences, as if the Dutch surrendered immediately.  The novel describes how everyday people had to cope with desperate times and the types of measures used to try to stop or slow the progress of the German occupation.  
   When the novel described the liberation of the northern provinces and pointed out that North and South Holland had to wait until May 5th, it had a personal connection.  My relatives lived in South Holland, near Rotterdam.  One of my uncles was born nine days after the liberation, so my grandmother did not have access to all the healthy food needed for the baby's development.  He was slow to develop and could not walk until he was two years old. When I think about that, I am truly amazed that my uncle later did well in a Canadian schools, started his own business and is now the father of three adult children.  Where we start does not need to dictate where we will finish.  Thanks be to God!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Deceptions of "Time-Saving" and "Money-Saving"

   To promote their product, advertisers know they have the trump card when they can honestly say that a given item will save time, save money, or both.  I wonder about that.  Is time-saving an absolute good?  Is money-saving always desirable?   I'm inclined to say that it all depends what is going to be done with the time saved or the money saved.

How is "Time Saved" Used?

   I recall hearing a survey about ten years ago that shared what women have done with all the time they have saved in their homes through appliances and labour-saving devices.  I listened with bated breath as the announcer gave a preamble describing the survey.  It turns out that this time has been used for two particular categories in women's lives--personal grooming and watching television.  Now, I am not opposed to caring for one's appearance or relaxing through a bit of entertainment via a screen.  However, pampering can be taken to extremes.  Television watching among adults in Canada has remained steady at about four hours per day for the past eight years [1]; I find this to be incredibly high.  When you add all the time adults spend checking their Smart phones, playing individual games on their devices and other screen time, the total is even higher.
   When we save time by using a dishwasher instead of doing dishes by hand, for example, we are inclined to use this time for selfish ends.  Isn't advertising that promotes saving time really promoting selfishness?  But it does not have to be that way.  When we have priorities in our lives that are not selfish, such as spending time with our children, caring for neighbours or members of our communities, volunteerism, we can use the gift of time in a more balanced and godly way.

24 Hours per Day

   With the quantification of time through the invention of clocks, we have lost some of the sense of living in the present moment.  Minutes, seconds, even milliseconds are measured with precision so that we feel we have a level of power and ownership over the segments of our day.  In The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Leswis, ironic advice given to a junior devil relates to this:
You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own'. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to him employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.”  (page 121)

How is "Money Saved" Used?

   I do not have any statistics about how people use money they have supposedly saved, but I have some theories.  There is definitely a segment of the population for whom saving a few dollars here and there keeps them in the black and enables them to simply pay their bills or satisfy their creditors with minimum payments. However, for those who live comfortably, saving money here and there often justifies more spending:  "I saved $3 on that jumbo pack of toilet paper, so now I can splurge on a specialty coffee."  I suspect that the bigger the savings, the bigger the splurge.  It is important to check our motives whenever we get excited about saving money.

Reality Check

   In our drive to save time, it is possible to lose sight of the value of doing a particular task. When a person has "nothing to do" through unemployment or the unavailability of education, it is easy for them to get into trouble.  Having something to "do," besides pushing buttons on a machine humanizes us.  We embrace our capacities beyond our fingers and thumbs.  And when we put love into a menial or tedious task, it can become an offering to the Lord.  For example, helping one of my children deliver flyers on a day when the other two cannot gives me an opportunity to see people's front gardens up close, to greet people and to connect with my child.  It all depends on my attitude.
   In our drive to save money, it is possible to lose sight of making sure a person is justly rewarded for labour or goods he has had a hand in producing.  When we save dollars here and there, are we actually robbing some people of their due?  Paying a fair trade price for imported goods needs to become a matter of conscience.

[1]http://www.tvb.ca/page_files/pdf/InfoCentre/TVBasics.pdf, according to the graph on page 13. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Managing Leftovers

Photo from "Free range stock" 
   One of my cookbooks has a chapter entitled "Magic with Leftovers," and the More with Less Cookbook ends virtually every chapter with a section called "Gathering up Fragments."  Avoiding food waste was something drilled into me by parents who grew up in post-war Europe, and I have embraced it as a form of stewardship of the resources entrusted to me.  Last week, I had to throw out some roast beef and broth that I had let linger in my refrigerator too long. Alas, I do not always succeed!
   This post is not so much about leftovers from a prepared meal, but the fragments that come as we empty a can, package or bag of food.  Leftovers in packages of non-edible products are also frequently wasted, so I will deal with them as well.  Perhaps you will find a new way to avoid waste by using one or more of the following ideas:

Food Products

  • Heels or ends of bread:  Save them for toast with honey or peanut butter. / Rip them into pieces and store in a freezer container for recipes that call for "fresh bread crumbs."  Simply thaw them for 15-20 minutes before use. / After you have used the oven to bake or cook, place the bread in the oven to dry out with the residual heat (turn off the oven).  Later, crush into bread crumbs. / Feed them to the birds.
  • Crumbs in a package of fish sticks or chicken nuggets:  Save these crumbs in the freezer until you make a casserole that calls for a bread crumb topping.  Shake these crumbs over the dish before popping into the oven.  No need to add any melted margarine.
  • Crumbs in the bottom of a box of cereal:  If the cereal is not sweetened, you can save the crumbs and use as bread crumbs on top of a casserole or along with the breading for any kind of meat. / Add the little bit of crumbs to any muffin recipe as part of the flour. / For sweetened cereal crumbs, try adding them to a serving of yogurt as a substitute for granola.
  • Tomato sauce at the bottom of a can or jar:  Rinse with a little water and add the contents to your soup or sauce or chili. / Use a rubber spatula to get to the bottom of the container and use all of it.
  • Last bit of margarine or butter: Use a rubber spatula to spread the last of it onto a slice of bread. / Use a piece of waxed paper to grease a dish or pan with it. 
  • Egg whites: Add to scrambled eggs; nobody will notice the proportions of yolk to egg being "off." / Beat until stiff and add to a cake, pancake or waffle batter for a fluffier end product.
  • Egg yolks: Cook them gently in a little water.  When firm, grate them over salads or sauces. / Add to scrambled eggs; nobody will notice the proportions of yolk to egg being "off." /  Used in fried rice or any recipe that already calls for eggs.
  • Jam in the bottom of the jar: Use a rubber spatula, if it fits, to make one more sandwich. / Add a little milk, replace the lid and shake.  Drink as a mini-milkshake.
  • Salad dressing in the bottom of the bottle:  Store upside-down in the refrigerator.  Remove the end nozzle with a butter knife to release all the remaining product. / Add a little milk, replace lid and shake. Add to mayonnaise when making a potato or pasta salad for a little extra zip. 

Non-food Products

  • Shampoo at the bottom of the bottle: Add a little warm water and shake it up.  Use extra quantities when washing hair until it is all used up. / Dilute and use as a laundry soap for lingerie or other delicates.
  • Stick deodorant:  When the deodorant no longer rolls on as it should, i.e. the plastic parts become visible, there is still a large amount of usable product we are incline to throw away.  Smooth your finger tips over it to obtain the product and then spread it in the under-arm area. Wash your hands. /  A popsicle stick can help you dig out even more.  Spread with fingers as above.
  • Toothpaste: When you cannot squeeze anymore paste out of the tube, it is not necessarily all used up. Push all the paste to the dispenser end by rolling it up.  Furthermore, use a sterile knife or pair of scissors to cut the end.  For reasons of hygiene, allow only one person to dip his/her toothbrush into the remaining toothpaste until it is gone.  (It could last a week!)
Related post:

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Farewell to Junior Kindergarten

   As I enter into the last week of school for this year, it is also the last time I will be teaching Junior Kindergarten for the foreseeable future.  The six years I have spent with 4 & 5 year olds have been very special to me.  Through this teaching experience I have learned many things about myself and about life in general.  These things will remain with me when I take on responsibilities in higher grades as well as in a new administrative role.  I'd like to share just a few highlights:

Becoming Qualified

   As some of my readers will know, I was offered the job of teaching Junior Kindergarten a few days before school started in September, 2008.  I had a couple of hours to think and pray about taking this position, but I accepted it with a sense of calling.  I had never previously taught this age-group, outside of my own children, and none of my teaching courses dealt with students in the primary or pre-primary grades. However, God gave me the resources (patience, support from colleagues, good curriculum, a well-equipped classroom, etc.) that I needed to be successful.  Sometimes we may feel we are out of our depth, as I did for that first month or so, but when we are following God's leading in our lives He will graciously help us obtain the qualities we need to complete the task.

Unconditional Acceptance

   Since Junior Kindergarten students have never been to school before, they do not have the kinds of expectations that older students may have.  They are simply looking for an engaging place with children their age and a teacher who will help them with problems, read them stories and expose them to new things in God's wide world.   When I first took on this teaching position I was worried that I would not measure up to the quintessential Kindergarten teacher, who I perceived would be more "fun," musical and huggy.  What my students have taught me is that I will be accepted for being myself.  I don't need to try to measure myself by stereotypes or other people.


   Teachers want to help students connect what they already know with the new material they are introducing. What I have learned by teaching JK students is that young children naturally make these connections.  That is why it is so easy for them to go off on tangents and lose focus.  The connections they make between new information and their personal worlds are sometimes unanticipated!  When a visiting parent demonstrated how to count to 10 in a foreign language (Serbian), the number eight sounded a little bit like "awesome," causing one student to burst into the theme song from The LEGO Movie, "Everything is awesome."  These connections help our brains develop from infancy.  Making connections comes naturally to children, and this capacity can be fostered by giving them opportunities to verbalize them, thereby processing their new learning.

Open Eyes

   Working with children of this age has given me a renewed sense of wonder at little things in Creation.  Their eyes are open to small wonders, such as a gliding butterfly, the retelling of a Bible story and the opportunity to surprise someone with a kind deed.  When I walk to and from my workplace from day to day, I try to appreciate the cardinal's call, the single shy trillium and the shapes of clouds in a similar way.  Jesus commends child-like faith, but I'm sure it also includes child-like wonder.

Friday, 13 June 2014

New Library...in my front yard

   A few months ago, while listening to a broadcast of The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio, I was inspired to set up a "Little Library" in my front yard.  Stuart McLean shared the history of this movement on a show devoted to the theme of libraries.  According to the website of http://littlefreelibrary.org/, the first little free library was built in 2009 in Wisconsin.  This idea has grown so that there are now at least 15,000 little free libraries world-wide. While North Americans are blessed with large local libraries where books can be borrowed at no cost, many countries lack this resource.  The little libraries in Ghana, Pakistan and Turkey are a way for people to access printed materials that may otherwise be unaffordable to them.
   My talented husband designed and built our little library.  He installed it this morning, and I have been pondering which books to include.  It has a weather-proof front flap to lift and find the books kept dry inside.  I hope it will be a way to meet more of our neighbours.  It's a way of saying, "We care." We care not just about literacy but the well-being of the people around us.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Simpler Living Tips #5: Summer Family Vacations

   It took my husband and me a while to figure out how to take vacations.  At first our lives were always busiest (with a greenhouse business in the back yard) in summer.  We tried going places in the off-season, but ended up frustrated time and again that nothing was open.  We stayed within the province, so many attractions between October and April were closed or had limited appeal.  More recently, we have had many successful summer vacations with our children.
   To match our lifestyle, none of our vacations (besides our honeymoon) involved buying airline tickets.  A few different styles of vacations follow with a few tips we learned along the way.

Day Trips

Take a closer look at your own community and the attractions that others might travel long distances to visit right where you are.  When you take a day trip to a museum, historic site, or amusement park that is close by, you can save on travel costs.  You could even take a different form of transit than your car or minivan. Some local outings are within walking or biking distance.  If you live in a city, public transit (bus or train) could be part of the day trip adventure.

Consider hiking or bike trails as a worthy day trip.  When you pack your own lunch, you can enjoy a picnic along the way.  Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, bug spray and sunscreen.  Set the length of your hike or bike ride according to the age and stamina of the children.  If possible, locate playgrounds or parks that are a short distance from the trail, where you could pull out a frisbee or ball as a little break.  Prior to the trip, have your children help you generate a list of things you might see on your adventure and then check them off as you go along. 

Road Trips

Our longest road trip took us from Southwestern Ontario to Banff/Jasper, Alberta.  Our destination was close to relatives, so we could stay with them for a few days as well.  We allowed about eight days of travel each way (about 500 km of driving per day, with a little less on Sundays).  When we planned the route, we looked for one attraction each day so that we would not simply drive through every town and city on our way to "the destination."  Each day would be a destination in its own right that the children would enjoy and remember.

During the drive times, we spent time listening to music, audio books that appealed to a range of ages (Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and Hoot by Carl Hiaason still stand out), the Bible dramatized, and Adventures in Odyssey.  We also played the alphabet game, twenty questions and other games that used our imaginations and enhanced our time together.

To save money on accommodations, we stayed at camp grounds each night.  Depending on the family budget, you could also plan to camp most nights and splurge on a hotel once or twice, or only if the weather is unsuitable for camping.

The meals we had on our road trip were fairly simple.  We did not eat out at restaurants at all.  We left home with two tray-like cardboard boxes with no tops that could slide under one row of seats in the back.  In it were all kinds of staples that would be OK without refrigeration.  We called it our "vantry."  When we stopped in various towns to pick up supplies, we shopped at supermarkets.  Our large cooler received a fresh pack of ice each day; we bought perishable things the day we planned to eat them.  We prepared breakfast at our campsite, ate lunch on the road (we added toppings to bread, buns and bagels as we drove) and stopped at the camp ground by dinner time to prepare a hot meal on the camp stove.

Camping Trips 

When choosing a destination for camping, we liked to stay at the same park for at least three nights.  In that way we would not have to spend so much time setting up and taking down our tents.  We would have time to explore what the park had to offer and possibly take a trip to a nearby town.  One memorable trip to a town nearby Charleston Lake Provincial Park included seeing murals painted on various buildings and browsing through a second hand store.  

Taking bicycles along on a camping trip is a good idea.  That way you can park your vehicle and get exercise.  If you do not have a bike rack, perhaps you can borrow one from a friend or neighbour.  My husband, the master packer, removed wheels of bigger bikes for transport and then reattached them once we arrived at the park.

We brought games to play and books to read so that we would have many options of activities in addition to swimming, hiking trails, nature centres and canoe rental.

What kind of simple summer vacations have you taken?  Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Not a Waste: the Short Life of Catherine of Siena

The lily is associated with Catherine of Siena
   This installment in a series I began in January comes with more reservations than I had in the other biographies.  Catherine of Siena lived before the Protestant Reformation; as such she was a Christian born in Italy with the mileu of Popes and certain teachings that are no longer universal in Christendom.  During her lifetime she was considered outspoken for a woman, yet in 1461 she was canonized and then further recognized with the title "Doctor of the Church" for her teachings in 1970.  I read two different accounts about Catherine before including her short life of influence for consideration here.

   Catherine of Siena was born in Tuscany, Italy during the early Renaissance period (1347).  Remarkably, she was the 23rd child born to her parents; she had a twin who died.  Between 5-7 years of age she reported seeming her first vision, which led her a life very conscious of spiritual things.  The expression "Renaissance Man" is given to a person who is intelligent and well-informed in a variety of subjects.  Based on my research, I would have to call Catherine of Siena a "Renaissance Woman" in the same sense.  Some of her accomplishments and roles included the following:

  • She acted as a nurse to ungrateful patients, including one with leprosy
  • She ministered to victims of the Plague when it came to Siena
  • She visited prisoners and gave support to them when they were about to be executed
  • People came to her for advice on practical matters
  • She taught herself to read and was well-versed in the Bible, Psalms and works of the early church Fathers
  • She tried to be a peacemaker in religious and political disputes
  • She wrote letters and prayers that have survived to the present-day
  • She wrote a book entitled Dialogue, a mystical expression of her teachings and understanding of salvation.  In it she uses vibrant metaphors to communicate spiritual truths.
  • She was involved in expanding the use of the vernacular (Italian instead of Latin) within the church
  • She was a "model for the union of both contemplation and actions in the service of church reform." [1]
   Catherine did all of these things before she reached the age of thirty-three.  Throughout her life she refused certain comforts, such as pillows, and fasted regularly.  It would appear that at some point her fasting bordered on what we would now call anorexia or that she had a stomach ailment whereby she could not keep food down for the last months of her life.  The words she spoke as she left this world were "Grazie, Grazie," Italian for "Thank you" to her Lord for sustaining her.

[1] Bernard McGinn, The Doctors of the Church, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999, page 132.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Dominican Republic #5: Lasting Impact

Even if you have never watched the episode of Mr. Bean in which he sends Christmas cards to himself and then acts excited when he opens them and displays them in his apartment, you would probably agree that it is an odd thing to do.  At the end of last week, though, I received a letter in the mail that I had indeed written to myself.  On January 30, at the airport on our return flight from Dominican Republic, our team leader handed out paper and envelopes so that we could record some of our impressions about the trip and how we had been changed or challenged to live or act differently as a result.  We were told that nobody else would read the sealed letter but that it would be sent back to us 3-4 months after the trip as a reminder.
Some of the impressions I included in this letter were as follows:

  • The best investment for the poor is education so that they can become leaders.
  • I need to stop answering questions that are not addressed to me.
  • What a great deal we can do when we work together; stop being a lone ranger.
  • I felt a sense of connection to the teams before and after as well an American team that was building churches and stayed at the same guest house as we did.
  • I felt a burden to pray for missionaries more fervently.
Two commitment arose from this trip, which I both wrote in the letter and have begun to do:
  • Give greater priority to missionaries/mission work in the charitable donations my husband and I make.
  • Offer free editing to a seminary student for whom English is a second language.  A talent I had previously used only as a source of income can also be shared to help build up God's church worldwide.
"Establish the work of our hands for us--yes, establish the work of our hands."                                                                                        Psalm 90: 17b