Thirty-One Times Grateful

31

My birthday was last week, and, as ever, I greeted the day with excitement and joy, and not a little gratitude.

I am sometimes sarcastic and sometimes philosophical, but this occasion called for a simple stock-taking of all the reasons having another birthday is a great thing.

1. I live in a free country (no, let’s not get into the flaws of democracy and capitalism today).

2. I am part of a family. Two, actually!

3. I am physically healthy.

4. I have traveled beyond my country and beyond my continent, and explored cultures different from my own.

5. Traveling outside of my comfort zone has taught me to appreciate and respect other cultures and customs.

6. It has also taught me to love my own.

7. I will rarely, if ever, be expected to compromise my beliefs and values.

8. I feel safe most of the time.

9. I have found my soul mate.

10. I am able to educate myself in whichever career I choose.

11. Though I know the American Dream is a fallacy, I feel capable of being all I can be, if I choose to work for it.

12. I don’t have money or rich relatives, and though my finances often threaten to give me ulcers, I somehow know it will all be alright in the end, if I have my man, my people, and my wits about me.

13. I have a roof over my head, old and crooked as it might be.

14. I am intelligent enough to be capable of many things.

15. I have access to libraries full of great knowledge and history.

16. I have a job. Being employed is easily taken for granted, until you’re unemployed and struggling to find income. Be grateful!

17. I have had many champions and mentors, and am fortunate enough to have continuing relationships with them.

18. I have a home where I can host family and friends and exercise my gift of hospitality.

19. I own not one, but two vehicles, one of which was a birthday surprise that will continue to delight me for years to come.

20. I live in a time where technology allows me to stay in touch with friends and family far and wide. Perhaps the same technology is making us all lonelier, but I treasure its ability to connect me to others.

21. It might be limited, but I have access to all the clean water I need.

22. I am able to grow my own food, even in the city.

23. Pastry. That’s all.

24. I live in a beautiful part of the world: rolling hills, great lakes with lovely beaches, delicate and subtle flowers in the spring, fertile soil for gardens and crops, reds and golds of changing leaves in the fall, forests with walking trails, rivers, ponds…

25. I am blessed with many wonderful friends. You know who you are. Thank you for being in my life!

26. Nieces. I love ADORE those girls! I can’t get enough of them. I wouldn’t mind a nephew, too… someday.

27. Blogging. Even though it means I have all but completely neglected proper journalling, I really enjoy these electronic snippets!

28. I am grateful for the abundance of good food available to me. By “good” I mean both delicious and of excellent quality.

29. This one is purely frivolous, but I appreciate the way my complexion suits many different hair colours. I’ve enjoyed being a blonde, a redhead, a brunette, and several shades between.

30. Despite how frustrating the ignorance of some people can be, there is a part of me that knows it takes all kinds to make a world, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have to meet so many of them.

31. Lastly, you. I am honoured to be read by a dedicated few and occasionally by many strangers. To all of you: thanks for making this endeavor worthwhile!

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You know it’s summer when…

 

The Distant Hours

Winter, Where Art Thou? I want you for your Hoary Frost.

It’s Groundhog Day. Wiarton Willy, the official local groundhog, will tell us whether or not we will have 6 more weeks of winter, based on whether or not he sees his shadow.

Of course, this is all a bunch of nonsense because even Wiarton Willy can’t control whether it will be a sunny day on February 2nd or not… but personally I do hope for 6 more weeks of winter.

This winter hasn’t really even started yet. It’s a pseudo-winter: snow for 3 days, rain for 4, snow for one day, rain for 2. No sooner do we get used to sweeping off our car and bundling up than it’s time for Wellies and umbrellas again. Every day, I have to check the weather to find out whether it’s a rubber boot day or a winter boot day.

I know there is a large camp that is thrilled with the spring-like spells and lack of icy roads and snow drifts. It means little shoveling, salting, and bundling. But it also means endless brown muck, dried salt stains, barren landscapes, and, worst of all, no snow days!

One of my favourite things about winter is hoar frost. It only happens on certain mornings, when the temperature and moisture is just right. When the sun gets high enough, it melts away, so you have to get out to capture it in the morning.

Here are some pictures that I took on a hoar frost morning about two years ago:

everything is white

I love when everything is white like this!

hoar frost on branch

Beautiful grainy build-up

frosty blades of grass

Frosty blades of grass peeking through a blanket of white.

Over the river and through the woods...

Over the river and through the woods...

A beautiful contrast between the blue sky and the orange leaves and the white snow

A beautiful contrast between the blue sky and the orange leaves and the white snow

Frost-encrusted grasses

Frost-encrusted grasses

Maple leaves in winter

Maple leaves in winter

A tree's white fingers

A tree's white fingers

Death of an Idealist

University changes people.

Or, at $7,000 per year for tuition, it had freaking well better!

I remember when I was a naive teenager in youth group, talking about former members of the group that had gone to university, and thinking that that was where they lost their faith.

At the time, I was active in my church. All of my friends were from church. All of my family, immediate and extended, went to church. It was a pervasive aspect of my life, and I didn’t foresee anything different for myself.

In my past life (before university, before my mom died), I had another blog that I called MuSiNgS, where I talked about faith-based topics. One such post in 2007 discussed an idea I took from a book called Velvet Elvis, written by Rob Bell, a controversial figure in the North American church. At the beginning of his book (okay, I’ve only read the beginning), he introduces two conceptions of faith: springs and bricks.

This is from my MuSiNgS post in 2007:

Rob starts the first chapter, titled Movement One: Jump, by comparing faith to the image of a trampoline, then goes on to parallel the necessary springs with the statements people make about their beliefs. Springs are the doctrines that, when working together with other springs, hold up the mat we jump on, or the structure of our faith. In order to make that trampoline work, the springs should stretch and flex, expand and retract according to how the trampoline is being used. Likewise should our doctrines, the truths that give depth and content to our faith.

By comparison, Rob points out that there are those whose faith more closely resembles a wall of bricks that are laid on top of each other. If one gets knocked loose, several more tumble. Brickians aren’t comfortable with questions being asked of their faith, because they haven’t been introduced to the trampoline. They aren’t familiar with the flexing of the springs. Rob cites the case of one Brickian who was adamant that, “if you deny that God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross.” Pull out one brick, the whole wall collapses.

When I was in youth group looking upwards at the people who had gone off to university, I was a Brickian. I couldn’t be flexible. Brickians are afraid of change, of new ideas, of anything that will challenge their worldview. I was afraid that my wall would fall down. I didn’t see that there was a trampoline on the other side of it. I probably would have been afraid of the trampoline if I had seen it.

Since those days, my bricks have slowly been falling down, one after the other, and sometimes two or three at a time. I have crossed lines I never would have dreamed possible for me. I have been introduced to the trampoline, and while I know that I am not pushing that trampoline to its limits, it is sometimes hard for me to remember those left behind behind their own brick walls, that may never discover the springs of a flexible faith. trampoline

Brickians are idealists. They have to be.

~~~

This year in university, I feel like I’m finally getting down to what really matters, things that are world-defining, like democracy and racism. I’m learning that there is very little place for idealism in the real world. Things are very rarely black and white, if ever. There are very few things that you can really know for sure.

Yes, I believe faith can help you be sure about some things. But it can help you hide from others. It can encourage ignorance and complacency. It doesn’t have to. But it can. For me, it did.

What I am learning about the world, my world, is knocking down the rest of those bricks. It’s opening up my mind. It’s causing me to re-assess those issues that I had been too scared to consider before, those things that I had deemed too controversial or too sacred to open up.

It’s a good thing. I may be losing my idealism, which I had thought a good thing, but I am not losing my optimism. Yet, anyway.

I am losing a tendency to hide behind crumbling pillars erected by fearful people, and gaining an ability to see critically. I’m not there yet… but I have another year and a half of university, and then hopefully many more years of life to continue to learn.

To continue to let idealism die, in exchange for wisdom.

 

Spring has Sprung 2011! – a set on Flickr

 

 

This past weekend I had the pleasure of walking around the bed and breakfast/inn where I work and marveling at the spring flowers popping out everywhere. Aren’t they amazing?!

 

Spring has Sprung2011! – a set on Flickr.

“LOVE YOUR MAMA”

The A&W sign was referring to the Mama Burger, of course, but I thought it appropriate that I would see this message in lights today, January 13th, the day when I remember just how much I still (and always will) love my Mama.

Three years ago this morning, my amazing mother left this world for a better one. At least, that’s what I believe. Mom would never have expected me to stand outside in the middle of winter to take a moment of silence in her memory, but it has become a little ritual I treasure.

It was a not-so-snowy day in January, 2008, that my siblings and I trekked out to the end of the rock breakwater at the Cove in Goderich to have a private memorial together before the funeral. We each held a flower, which we took turns tossing into the open lake. It was beautiful and nostalgic. We read some meaningful prayers and poems, and took lots of pictures. For me, it was the beginning of an annual tradition.

One year later, on the coldest day of the year, my siblings and I gathered for dinner, then trekked out to the Maitland Bridge, under which flowed the only open water we could find. What a difference a year makes! Once again, we spoke a little, then dropped cut flowers into the river, where they would be carried into the lake.

Last year, only a few of us managed to get together. This time, we wrote little notes to Mom, put them inside plastic containers, and attempted to break the ice to get them into the lake, but wound up mostly just shattering our containers and scattering our notes. Still, we remembered our mama, who left us too young. There were flowers then, too.

Today, I’m the only sibling “in” Goderich, and I didn’t make any plans ahead of time that I could invite my siblings to, so it was only my boyfriend Johnathan and I. We walked out on the pier, my hand holding tightly to 6 stems of yellow mums, and Johnathan’s hand holding tight to mine.

We broke the think layer of ice with a nearby rock, and then stood back to ponder. And cry. And sob. Then I dropped the 6 stems one by one, imagining that they represented each of my mother’s children, and Johnathan held me and we cried some more.

It’s amazing to have a partner that loves you so much he will stand with you on a freezing winter day out in the cold and hold you as you sob, and even cry with you, for a person he never met.

I don’t think my mother ever had that kind of love on earth, and I ache to think that she didn’t get to meet Johnathan or see how well I am loved.

Still, I learned today that she was satisfied with her life when she came to the end of it, at peace with how she was leaving her family and her friends.

I also learned today that she accepted the otherworldly task of embracing and taking care of a friend’s baby who had died at birth, once they were in “the great beyond” together. I know she has plenty of babies to embrace in Heaven, and now also her father and brother Dean.

I wish she could hug me, though…

Limbo: A Return to Transparency

I’ve been on a journey. We’re all on a journey, I guess, but my journey took me into territory I couldn’t have foreseen. It could also be said that it took me out of territory that I DID foresee myself living in forever. If you had asked me when I was 25 what I would be doing in 4 years, I would not have said, “Going to university in Canada after living there for 4 years”! I would not have guessed I’d become a server (and a good one, I daresay), join a local band (or two), fall in love with a local guy, have my own apartment in a tiny hamlet without even a general store or gas station… the story goes on. Key to this blog is the fact that I definitely wouldn’t have predicted leaving my church, growing disgusted with the institution that is the Church, and setting my whole “Christian” life on a little-used shelf in the back of a dingy basement.

Looking back, I can sort of trace my progress out of the “Christian” culture, step by tiny step, all the way to where I am today (which is a sort of limbo, I think). Did I turn the wrong way at those decision-markers? I couldn’t tell you for sure. All I’ve got is where I am today, and a hope that all will be well.

Back to this idea of limbo: I’m definitely not in a faith world right now, nor do I have any desire to be. “Christian” culture and lingo and attitudes continue to creep me out. Worship songs do not stir me; I don’t want to sing along even if I know the words by heart. Churches that I know are working hard at casting out hypocrisy and shallowness still don’t appeal to me.

Privately, there are times I cast up a prayer; I know God is listening. Every now and then I yearn to be discovering ancient and earth-shaking truths about the divine. Once in a while I think, “God is the only being that knows EVERY. SINGLE. BIT. about me”, a fact which is sometimes comforting, sometimes intimidating (but I wouldn’t want to believe in a God that a; didn’t know me, b; was never comforting, c; was never intimidating). I occasionally miss a certain depth that I was once working on, “down in my heart”, but then I think about how I’m working on balance and knowledge, and, therefore, depth in other areas that were too shallow before this exodus of mine. At university, I find myself interested in the history of the church and the changing trends that led to the traditions accumulated and passed down through the generations.

It’s limbo because I feel as if I’m going somewhere; I’m on a winding path that is nowhere close to being finished. Along the way I’m discovering more about who I really am, what the world is like, where my moral boundaries are, and what I can actually believe in and why. If/when I return to faith, it will be because my path has led me there, because the time is right and things have lined up; it won’t be because of a feeling of guilt over not going to church or praying or speaking churchese or reading my Bible.

So. Limbo… sometimes an uncomfortable place to be, but for me it means that the place I am going is not the place I’ve come from. It also means there IS a forward motion in effect. I’m liking limbo, and I’ll like it until I don’t, and then I’ll move on.

Springtime Ramblings

Today was supposed to be a study-and-do-laundry day, but it’s turned into a be-emotional-and-cry-too-much day, so I’m taking advantage of the inspiration accrued from heightened feelings to share some thoughts with my blog-o-sphere.

Lately, I’ve been sharing most of my great ideas, my daily happenings, my rants, my inspirations, and my emotions with my stellar boyfriend Johnathan, and dividing my time between him, school, and work, plus

A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

Life in the H.C., Part 2

I went on a sorely needed long walk this evening, and I started to remember how much I love summer in Huron County. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of it. It’s unique, and I miss it when I’m gone.

As I walked briskly along the soft shoulder of the county road I live on, outside of the blinking-yellow-lighted hamlet in which I reside, I began to smile to myself. I found myself recognizing red-winged blackbirds and killdeer; identifying corn, bean, and winter wheat crops; picking out honeysuckle and milkweed.

The long-lasting sunset and the familiar pinky-oranges of it, behind the occasional lazy clouds, seemed perfect, and the freshly sweet fragrance of the cut grasses on the roadside the icing on the cake. I took the time to gaze into the roadside ditch and stoop down at the edge of a bean field to admire the tiny plants just popping out and shedding their seed shells.

The chattering of the birds as they dived into the ditch for their supper, crickets hiding somewhere close by, the humming of electricity through the hydro wires overhead.

Everything seemed familiar yet mysterious, and so, delightful.

I can’t necessarily describe what makes Huron County different from other parts of rural Ontario, or rural areas anywhere in the North-Western Hemisphere, but I sure can feel it. Perhaps the surrounding counties share similar characteristics, but venture much further and something, however slight, changes, and the sights, sounds, and smells are different. Less familiar. Less enjoyable.

One can’t help but take deep breaths of the fresh air around here, especially in the cool summer evenings. A simple whiff of it should be enough to make you smile, provided you aren’t doing it on a manure-spreading day!

Even the sound of cars driving by on the road in front of my apartment building is nice and homey. Could it be something about the pavement they use here? Oxygen molecules and how sound travels through them? I’m making stuff up now, but my point is clear, I would think: the familiarity of this area is fascinating to me.

You can take the girl out of the county, but you can’t take the county out of the girl. Apparently.