Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Recent Adventures

Our daughter-in-law Sue, and Paul, are kindred spirits in that they are both undeterred by things that others might deem impossible, and set out to do them by sheer force of will. 

Sue was helping us get our house ready for listing by painting the outside of the extension at the back. The day that she and Paul built the heavy rented scaffolding to the height needed to reach the peak at the edge of the roof of our house, and Sue had to stand on the scaffolding and reach up with her brush and roller was scary. 

Even she admitted to nervousness and sat on the edge of the scaffolding, dangling her legs while looking down, like an Olympic diver psyching herself up on a diving board. 

"Don't worry, I have four children," was the most encouraging thing she had to say.

Paul had tied down the scaffolding on either side, bought her a harness, and attached a rope to the harness. He then tied the rope around his waist. I could only think of how we can't even stand on a chair to change a light bulb at work under our health and safety policy. I could not even speak to them or watch. Paul didn't want me to either. This was one of the "short days" I mentioned in my previous post.  I forced myself to check now and then in case they were both dangling in mid air on opposite side of the scaffolding. 

Sue lived to paint another day, and I was so grateful.

It was one of those rare days during this frenzy of painting when Sue got home before dark. She'd been working so hard painting the outside of our house. 

She was home for a bit when she noticed that she hadn't seen one of their cats for a while. "Where's Ditto?" she asked.

A search of the house ensued, culminating with the discovery that the screen on the kitchen screen door, had been pushed through and was flapping gently in the breeze.

This was the start of five hours of panic and pandemonium. Our youngest granddaughter, Claire, 8, began to sob uncontrollably and inconsolably and could be heard through the windows, wailing at the top of her lungs. The only way Sue could get her to stop was to tell her to pray for Ditto, which made her gulp back back her shuddering sobs and beseech God to help them find him.

Katherine, 16, deals with things gone wrong by yelling at everyone at random, which she began to do with intensity.

Three hours later, at 8.00 p.m. Pete arrived home from work and joined the search--while Katherine yelled at him too. 

They searched the streets nearby and made posters to put up in the neighbourhood. Dark was falling fast, and Ditto, a black cat, was still nowhere to be found. Claire was still praying.

Outside Andrew was down in the ravine on their property, in bare feet, stumbling over stumps and buzzed by bugs. Katherine joined him, down in the dark bushes.

Pete was by the garden shed when he told everyone to be quiet and listen. Sure enough, there was a faint tinkle of the bell that Ditto wears for good reason. 

Scared by the commotion, and chased by Andrew, he ran from behind the shed to beneath the deck, while Katherine emerged from the ravine, scratching a rash that was appearing on her body and a raised area below one eye that must have been brushed by a leaf.

Ditto was retrieved from beneath the deck and brought inside to face the music. 

This photo, taken by Pete, is the real reason I had to tell the story. It is so classic. :) 

Thanks for sharing in Ditto's adventure. :)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our Sale of the Century

To say that we've been busy is an understatement; busy in all sorts of ways. 

Busy emotionally

Busy physically

Busy spiritually

Sometime in the spring we seriously began to face the fact that just two people living in our beautiful big house, was hard to rationalize. And as the grass began to grow, as it does in spring, while Paul was also busy at work, the rolling acre of it, dotted by a fruit orchard and many trees, plus gracefully curvaceous perennial flower beds, felt overwhelming. 

The rainy weather just egged on the grass, and keeping on top of the luscious, verdant, carpet of green began to feel like a weekly race with Paul losing. 

We've been going through a process of letting go; reluctantly facing reality. We are getting older; it's not going to get any easier.

We've gone through all 5 stages of loss and grief! I say that tongue in cheek of course, but the stages are similar you know: denial (we can stay here forever, there is no place we could ever love as much;) bargaining (we could rent out the basement apartment and pay someone to cut the grass;) not exactly anger, but anxiety that looked like anger (we have had remarkably short days--short with each other, that is;) even a little depression--and finally; hooray; acceptance (with relapses into earlier stages.)

All of this has taken many months, and a process that has surprised me in that it has not just been ours.  People meet in our house. It is a haven of hospitality. Even when I might not be very hospitable or am acting like a numb-skull, or scattered or sinful, the dear house opens its arms and doors to all comers and bids them a warm welcome.

So to each group of friends, I had news to break, and I could see by the look in their eyes that they, too, had to process it. There is the writers group that meets here monthly, and the cell group that meets here weekly for dinner, and several people have stayed here for holidays and a few have lived with us here--anybody who has been part of the "community of the house" in fact, has a degree of emotional attachment to it, and the view, of the forest on the hill and the fields on every hand, that feeds the soul. 

I made a selling feature of the memories in the walls when talking to our new friend, Jennifer the Realtor. "There is a lot of laughter in these walls," I said, and she may have thought me crazy, but was at least polite enough not to say so.

Then came Boot Camp; Purging Purgatory; STAGING. Oh my goodness, I was unprepared for the work that has involved--the ruthless tidiness of it all.

But I take comfort in the fact that I am forming good habits, which, previously confirmed piler of books and "stuff" that I was, I might  have paid money to learn. I now know how much easier it is to clean when things are put away in a draw or closet and not on the floor. Hmm, now that I think of it, I might  actually be paying money to learn these things, but it will be money well spent.

When the staging consultant came to visit, I had worked hard in advance, and felt ridiculously happy with every nod of approval and word of affirmation. But she was making a list. Oh, yes, and it arrived swiftly, with no mercy. Not a drop! 

We paid our daughter in law to risk life and limb painting the great heights of our stuccoed extension; I cleaned and polished to make my Dutch ancestors proud; Paul pruned and knelt down and weeded and mowed, and put his back out (good job I had painkillers from some past dental work left.) Finally we were ready.

In the past week we have had an "agent open house," and a "public open house," and, as a sidebar, our dear friends Mark and Paivi moved in to our basement apartment with  their dog Mindy on Saturday!  They have only added value to the space with Paivi's perfect taste :) and the ambiance of their dear selves. They just sold their own home and Mark is building their new one in the country.

Spiritually I have journeyed from anxiety, to remembering that God who faithfully led us when we were homeless newcomers sailing down the St. Lawrence with less than you can imagine to our names, is the same God who has a plan for the next place that we will call home. The journey is an adventure. Whoever lives here next, will be under a roof that is blessed in a house with arms that shelter.

And now you know why I have been too busy to write. :)

This link will take you to the house on MLS. Our agent did such a wonderful job of the script for the virtual tour.

The adventure continues. Of course it might not sell---oh, there I go again with denial. But you never know.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Leslie K. Tarr 2014 Career Award Winner Katie Funk Wiebe

About a month ago I wrote about Finding My Voice when I had the honour of delivering the speech for the Leslie K. Tarr Award.  Today the winner of the award, Katie Funk Wiebe, posted the speech and her acceptance speech on her blog. You can read them at Second Thoughts .

Since first discovering Katie's blog, I have been a regular visitor, and it is in my blog roll so that I can see when she posts. I love to read everything this amazing woman has to say since discovering her writing.

I have been too busy to write lately, but the dust will be settling soon. I have much to write about what is happening in my life, which suddenly sounds egotistical--but that, I must admit, is what I enjoy writing about. :)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Weasel Words

I recently read a lot of Katie Funk Wiebe's work. I came away enriched on many levels, but one small thing of value was learning about "weasel words," which I had never heard of before.

I recognized them instantly once described, as the language that I spoke all too often, unwittingly.

In her book, You Never Gave Me a Name, Katie wrote that one of her husband's professors at Syracuse University told her that she used too many "weasel words" like "perhaps" to avoid saying what she meant. A few paragraphs later, she tells how she ended an appeal for reason, by saying, "Perhaps I am wrong in this," and says, "There was that weasel word 'perhaps' again.'

From that moment on I noticed weasel words every time I wrote them or said them, and they seemed to pervade my emails with alarming frequency. I realized how often I weakened a point I really meant, by giving the receiver a way out of agreeing, in order to avoid being "wrong." Suddenly I found myself rereading statements that I thought I had made, only to find that I hadn't made them at all, but only a vague allusion to what I meant! 

It was an epiphany, and it has changed the way I communicate. I now aim to be straightforward, to ask directly for what I need, say what I mean because I mean it, and don't bury the power in wording that saps the life out of the point I am making.

Weasel words: Politicians use them on purpose; they are endemic in government-speak--but some of us have no idea that we are infected!

Out with weasel words I say--and in with an opposite concept--representing oneself authentically and clearly. No more fluff and fog.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rest in Peace RM

I went to the funeral today of someone who mentored those paid to support him in how to make friends and influence people.

He taught us even through the boxes of Smarties that were handed out to each person who came to the funeral. They were donated by the manager of the No Frills shop where he and his staff shopped for groceries. He developed a close friendship with Annette and her husband at the store and always came home with candy. Often the staff was left to do the shopping alone, he was too busy connecting. I told the staff he used to shop with that she did a good job getting out of the way and letting the friendship happen. Some might have thought they needed to get him to focus on the grocery shopping. She knew what was most important.

From photos on display his handsome face looked out at us, beaming with serenity and contentment. At the front of the church was an array of his stuffed toys and two trophies won between illnesses for a bowling score no one has yet managed to beat.

The service was simple; three songs (I'll Fly Away; Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me,) a short sermon on Psalm 23 and tributes from his staff and friends. 

He loved suspenders and wore them with aplomb. He also loved tying people's shoe laces, and there was no stopping him if he decided he wanted to. Someone joked that the angels' shoes are all tightly laced and tied since he arrived.

I thought about how complicated life can sometimes be for most of us, and yet how simple it truly is. This man leaves no inheritance of wealth, but he leaves an inheritance of love, memories, and goodness. He will not be forgotten, but lovingly remembered by those who knew him.

He loved to take your hands in his, and loved to listen a wristwatch, drawing it to his ear and smiling as he listened to the tick, tick, tick like the beat of a small heart.

One of the staff found this poem forming involuntarily as soon as she heard he had died. It is so beautiful and she gave me permission to share it here.
by Joanna Goheen

I give you my hands, I'll make you smile and forget your troubles for a while

Give me your hands, I'll kiss them light and beam at you with sheer delight

I give  you my hands; I'll steal your heart and make you feel we're never far apart

Give me your hands; I'll fix you up, doing up buttons and zipping you up

I give you my hands; I want to say, stay a while relax and play, I have some toys I want to share, but mostly I just want you there

Give me your hands; I'll listen to your watch tick and forget for a while that I was sick

I give you my hands; and then I'm off to play, in heaven now but not far away

Give someone your hands; I always say you'll find it will make their day

In loving memory of RM

Friday, June 20, 2014


Four of us came home from the annual writing conference of The Word Guild last Saturday evening, driving as far as we could together in a small convoy of two cars. 

We stopped for supper at Angel's Diner before we had even left the city of Guelph and by the time we left we were full of old fashioned diner food, served by an older woman who made us feel like we'd come home to mom. No request was too much trouble.

We left town inspired; grateful; invested in by skilled and successful teachers; encouraged; mentored; and having been connected with new friends and old.

Our hearts, heads and souls were full, not to mention luggage (there is a book store...no more need be said.)

As we unpacked and transferred cases, pillows and laptops from one car to another in our driveway, the unpacking had only just begun. There is so much information to process and solidify.

I thought that I would unpack some of the things that I learned here, too, as they surface, even if they are random thoughts that I just don't want to forget. The thoughts below are not writing related but they are part of what I brought home. 

One of the teachers in the continuing class I chose: The Spiritual Life of a Writer;  was author Mark Buchanan.  He shared two insights that I thought were interesting.

1) I've often pondered King David being described as "a man after God's own heart." Although he was a wonderful example to look up to in some ways, he failed rather spectacularly too, but then repented so transparently that his Psalm 51 is a template for thoroughly cleansing a heart before God. But why is he described as "a man after God's own heart?" Mark Buchanan explained that "a man after God's own heart" actually means "a man who is chosen not because of merit, but because of God's heart to use broken vessels."  I would love to think that is the meaning, because that means there is hope for us all...

2) The second insight was about the commandment that says we must not take the name of the Lord our God in vain, which I always thought meant using his name as a swear word. But Mark explained that it actually means misusing the authority of God's name, for example speaking as though you are speaking for God but not actually speaking in his Spirit --misrepresenting him or his heart; or attributing things to him falsely. Doesn't that make sense and wouldn't it make us more careful how we speak (or write) "in the authority of" his name?

Just two thoughts unpacked to consider. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Finding My Voice

Since 2007 I have written the Leslie K. Tarr Award speech, the prestigious award given for a major career contribution to Christian writing and usually presented in June at The Word Awards. It is an honour to make this small contribution to the work of The Word Guild, an organization that helped give me the courage to define myself as a writer. I love researching the winner's writing and the challenge of capturing the essence of their unique contribution to Canadian writing in only 500 words. I am always immeasurably enriched in the process.

The speech has previously been delivered by a series of distinguished looking men in tuxes, but this year the conference coordinator asked me to deliver the speech, as well as the acceptance speech for the winner, who was unable to attend! The prospect was as exciting and scary as riding an old fashioned roller coaster.

Once the speech was written, and rewritten, and I began to practice it, my insecurities surfaced. As a child I was so shy that could barely speak above a squeaky whisper. My voice is still quiet. Oh, how I envy people with strong, confident voices!

The night before the Awards Gala, I scanned You Tube to find tutorials on voice. I found a video clip of a silver haired man with compelling eyes and a rich, deep, resonant voice. His name was Jay Miller and he had what I wanted--well, the female version of it at least. :) 

I bought his MP3 lessons "Your Confident Voice," and the next afternoon--the day of the speech--I began to practice. This felt a little like starting piano lessons the afternoon of an evening concert performance. The lessons were meant to be taken and practiced at the rate of one a month--but I needed help as fast as I could get it. I got through 3 of the 5 lessons that afternoon!

Three of my grandchildren dropped by; I could hear them downstairs as I practiced up in our loft room. I couldn't bear to miss a chance to see them so I went and told them what I was doing and said, "Come and help!" 

Some day they may look back and howl with laughter about the day they did lip flutters and belly breathing with their crazy Omie, who sounded like a cow giving birth as she practiced "sighing out" various vowels! It was hilarious but it helped! When the time came to give the speech, I focused on breathing properly and felt grounded and relaxed.

My friend Claire Alexander sent me off with a wonderful memory of Lesley K. Tarr:

"Make a wonderful Tarr speech! I took an early writers' conference or two at the old Ontario Bible College on Spadina (under Billy Graham's School of Christian Writing, I imagine), when Les Tarr was very visible, and such a quiet, wise Canadian! He reached us far more than the first New York editor I ever saw in person, and understood what we really meant in our questions, and not just what we asked!"

With thanks to Susan Stewart, who took the photos, here are some glimpses of the evening. 

Here I am with my friend; writer, teacher and speaker Carolyn J. Morris.

I'm going to keep practicing the voice exercises. For who knows what my voice may find to do--now that I've found it?