09 December 2009

14 November 2009


Watch this space for news of today's convention at the Telus Centre in downtown Calgary. There are harder ways to spend a Saturday than in the company of beautiful women.

(I do this to remind myself to post something!)

still trudging through molasses
but even this part of the journey is sweet
(albeit somewhat s-l-o-w)

11 November 2009

09 November 2009

Monday at home

Mondays are my quiet days.

Usually I spend the day away from home (so as to avoid the phone, computer and front door bell), but sometimes the reality of work spills over into the silent spaces of my week. I write from home, I edit (when absolutely necessary), I do a spot of domestic engineering (see previous parentheses), I bake, I nap. Mostly, Mondays are non-people days.

Today I finished writing an article for the Nov/Dec edition of a magazine. My editor is far too gracious and her sweet spirit ensures my sanity, month after month. Sometimes I get to write two articles, just for fun. :) These deadlines--"coming ready or not"--keep me focused on writing; I tend to drift away from the page out of sheer laziness, but when I'm here, doing what I love, I'm most at peace.

I am thankful for the opportunities that come my way. And I meet fascinating folk!

(Note to self: write about all the beautiful people you've interviewed in the past two years.)

Milk and cookies

02 November 2009

Overboard: A Kaleidoscope of Kindness

As I wrote to several e-mail Readers yesterday, let me know if you'd like to read my Nov 1 CBC entry.

Titles only

I'm still so far behind in my work since we went away for Reading Week that all I'm blogging are the titles!

However, I have managed to stay up to date with teaching and editing deadlines (those are less flexible than my own writing, alas).

As yesterday's title shows, I also managed to meet the Nov 1 CBC literary awards entry deadline ... by the skin of my teeth.

Nov 1 deadline met

05 October 2009

First snow...and I can't sleep

It's snowing! I love the first snow of the season. On Saturday the snow melted, but tonight it's settling on the green grass and golden leaves of our garden. Pure. White. Simply beautiful.

I cannot sleep. I spoke to my mom a couple of hours ago ... and there are many things on my mind in this moment.

Back to bed, to my sweetly sleeping spouse and to the comfort of a God who knows the answers to questions I haven't dared to ask.

03 October 2009

My mother's voice

I just spoke to my mom after returning from a gorgeous Calgary wedding (which Robin photographed). Her voice has never sounded sweeter. She’s still in hospital—she’s been in ICU for a while now—but our conversation was coherent, all things considered (including the lateness of the hour here!). I told her it snowed on our way home ... our first snow of the season.


28 September 2009

Home from Saskatoon

Mom's still in hospital but doing fine. We arrived home to several phone messages, none of which bore bad news.

I like being home! (Perhaps that's one of the reasons I travel: to come home.)

Oh, our friends in SK spoiled us ...

More soon, once I've caught up with myself. Alas, I was behind when we left! Deadlines await.

happy to unpack and raid my own fridge instead of my friend's :)

23 September 2009

Mom's back in hospital

Again, my family requests no phone calls, please. But alas, Mom is back in hospital today (Wed). She's dehydrated and not eating well. A drip seems to be the answer for now.

{Oh, Mommy, my heart aches for you all.}

I'll be away after class tomorrow. R and I are driving with our friend CS to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (tell me if you want to hear the only SK joke I know). We'll be back on Monday when I'll post an update again.

The other Leaches seem to be doing fine.

Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are. Here in Alberta we're enjoying record highs for September, considering we've passed the autumn equinox already. No complaints at all! Fall's my favourite season, no contest.

off to pack for the province to the east (turn right and keep going straight)

19 September 2009

Mom's home

Sorry for the late update. Mom came out of hospital earlier this week, hooray! Hopefully she'll be able to rest at home. Medication seems to be the preferred option for heart treatment at present; no surgery is planned for the foreseeable future.

We've had a special week of extended classes at seminary and I attended a ladies' retreat yesterday and today (which my hubby would have enjoyed, I'm sure).

R and I are off to photograph a country wedding later this afternoon, so my computer time has been limited.

Thanks for popping in to find out about my family. Do write and tell me about yours.

13 September 2009

Mom's in hospital

Beloved readers

In keeping with the Leach family’s month from hell (starting with Wallace’s Jeep accident in August, followed by Mari landing up in hospital with measles, then Mom’s laryngitis and more) ...

... I am writing to let you know my mom, Lynn, is in hospital. Again. She’s on oxygen, a drip, and a nebulizer, so we hope all the bases are covered!

Mom has an existing heart condition (complicated by several other factors), and is currently waiting for the results of various tests done last week: blood work, bone marrow, etc. Despite the fact that she’s very weak and tired, we’ve enjoyed frequent phone calls in the last little while and her sense of humour seems to have survived her immediate family’s recent avalanche of crises. (50% of our family members have been in hospital in the past five weeks!)

To state the obvious: this has not been a take-it-easy kind of month, and taking it easy is what her heart currently needs. Heart surgery is an option my family would prefer not to consider, but we’ll know more tomorrow. I believe she’s in good hands. I also believe in a Physician Who has the power to save, to heal and to comfort the broken-hearted. Please pray with me for my loved ones.

Please don’t call my dad this week; he does not have much of a voice at present. Thanks for understanding.

Thank you, too, for your continued prayer and care for my family. I know I said I wouldn’t be sending further Leach updates this soon, but I know my mom appreciates your support.

Hoping to have good news next time,
Elaine Mary

+1 403-932-3560

P.S. For weekly updates, please follow this blog.

12 September 2009

Glenbrook block party

Tonight (Sept 12) we blocked off our street and had a BBQ. R enjoyed a burger and spinach salad with strawberries and mandarin segments; my next-door neighbour sizzled my steak for me and I munched on fresh corn on the cob; lots of fun. More than 40 folk came!

We’ve lived on Glenbrook Bay for 5 years already, and today we met some of our neighbours for the very first time. Our next-door neighbours we know quite well and appreciate dearly. (See earlier blog posts.) Along our side and around the corner lives a diverse crowd: PhD profs, Hebrew and Greek lecturers, nurses, teachers, accountants, tattooed and body-pierced postmoderns, rednecks and philosophers (and that’s just on the sunny side of the street).

On the other side’s a widow, a drummer (Sunday afternoon naps have a new rhythm), a single mom with a special-needs toddler and two pre-teens, a grandma raising her adolescent daughter’s son, and a couple of party-lovers on the far corner.

Interesting stories, fascinating life journeys.

One learns of deep sadness and profound courage all around: for example, the single mom lost both her brother and her sister in a two-week period this summer. Oi!

One young couple just returned from a trip to Cambodia and Thailand. I had a splendid time listening to their travel tales! Four of us on the street had Nikons, and we spoke about all things artistic. One out-of-towner visiting his family showed me close-ups of bugs on flowers he’d captured on film (the dragonfly and bees were my favourite), along with pics of his boyfriend; he’s got a rare talent and a great eye for composition.

My beloved boss (seminary’s academic dean) and two colleagues live in the same neighbourhood, so it was interesting for us to see each other in this wild(er) setting.

H1N1-free hugs ’n’ kisses,
your neighbour (near or far)

Sept 12 Seminary picnic

Coming soon.

11 September 2009

08 September 2009

Sept 8: 53rd wedding anniversary

Robin and I both spoke to our beautiful moms today:

Mom Leach is in hospital for heart-observation. (As I requested in my previous post, please don't call my folks for a few days). {Get well soon, Mommy.}

Mom and Dad Phillips in East London have reached the milestone of their 53rd ANNIVERSARY. (Robin celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with them in 2006.)

We have much to learn from our parents about sacrificial love and patient endurance.

{We admire and appreciate you both, Mom and Dad. May God guide you in the days ahead.}

These have been interesting times for our family. May we never take for granted the privilege of being part of a family that cares and a community that shows kindness during times of stress. Thank you all for reaching out, for reading, for writing, for praying and caring.

counting my blessings every day this new month

07 September 2009

Sept 7: Labour Day and Leach update

I’m writing to ask you to keep praying for our extended family. But please don’t phone my parents, much as they’ve appreciated the calls they’ve received already.

A month ago (Aug 7) my brother Wallace had his Jeep accident, as you know from earlier blog posts. When he came out of hospital, my sister Mari got measles and was admitted. (She temporarily lost her eyesight and could not drive.) Then my mom, Lynn, woke up speechless with laryngitis, followed by Tyla (the baby) contracting measles. Enough already!

Today (Monday) my sister called to say my mom has been admitted to hospital for observation of her heart. Less than a year ago she experienced what appeared to be early symptoms of heart failure, and was told to take it easy. This has not been a take-it-easy kind of month! In addition to looking after my brother when he came out of hospital, and then recovering from laryngitis, she also moved house. (Again.) I’m not sure my folks really know how to take it easy during a move; they do what needs doing until it’s done. :)

Half of the Leaches—and I do mean 50%—have been in hospital in the last month. They’re all desperately tired, and my brother is understandably depressed that his injuries are still so serious, and that his healing may take longer than he expected.

To readers-who-pray, please do so, in particular for my mommy’s stressed heart. What a month it’s been! (Oh, did I mention my dad has flu?)

On the Phillips front, all’s well here. Robin and I enjoyed a leisurely Labour Day. How did you spend your Monday?

01 September 2009

Sept 1: Back to school

Last week was Orientation.

This week we're back to school.

Although I miss my quiet(er) working-from-home days in the midst of ringing bells and school assignments, I do love the college and seminary students in my class each year. They're the reason I teach. (Any teachers out there?)

And because they're at university by choice, it's not quite the same as trying to teach high school kids English grammar or literature.

For my South African teaching practicum the year I graduated from Rand Afrikaans University (fifteen years ago) I had the dubious privilege of teaching Matric [Grade 12] boys Romeo and Juliet. :) Imagine.

Now I get to teach students ranging in age from 18 to 70 English and History of Western Civilization, and I am thankful.

Back to school,

26 August 2009

Jesse, by Nick Melazzo

Jesse's journey


This week is Orientation at the seminary where I have taught part-time for five years since graduating in 2003, and next week classes resume after our summer break.

I’ll be teaching English as usual, as well as History of Western Civilization. (Because of his passion for the subject, Robin will be my history consultant and technology assistant; he will team-teach with me and help with Power Point presentations etc. How splendid is that?)

I look forward to seeing all my lovely colleagues again; they have been marvellous during the periodic crises all of us face.

Last Leach update

Dear everybody-who-has-followed-Wallace’s-progress

This will be my last Leach family update for the time being.

It has been a season of suffering in our extended household. In keeping with the Leach family’s month of misery, my mom, Lynn, has laryngitis and my sister, Mari, is in hospital with measles this week. Arrgh. Wallace has returned home to begin his long and difficult journey of recovery. May Chantal and Tyla bring him great comfort and joy. (The attached photos of my sweet niece are to cheer your heart.)

Thanks for your interest and care to date. Our family has been overwhelmed by the prayer support shown by kin and acquaintances alike. I believe God chose to save my brother’s life, and I remain deeply thankful. You are greatly appreciated and we value the ongoing kindness from our local and global community.

God be with you.

Elaine Mary

23 August 2009

Post-midnight family phone call

Two weeks have passed since Wallace’s car accident, and I spoke to my parents and sister last night to get an update on my beloved brother’s health. My dad called Wal to the phone and we chatted for ages. It was good to hear his voice again; he sounded almost chirpy. To state the obvious, these last few days have not been easy. I appreciate all my family’s hands-on care for each other. Wallace saw an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist and a maxo-facial surgeon this week and learned that he’d burst his eardrum and that the pain in the ear was caused by an inner ear infection, which is now under control (although his hearing may be affected).

His eye’s lateral rectus nerve (LR) is damaged, caused by his skull-base fracture which means that his eye has lost its ability to move (it appears “squint”); it also dries out quickly, thus needing constant ointment. The right side of his face is partly paralysed, some facial nerves are not functioning, and his broken cheekbones are causing some trouble. This means he has no feeling in part of his face: his teeth and sinuses (etc.) are affected. Most serious is the double vision caused by the damage in his patched eye. Because of his fractured skull, an operation on the base of the brain is not advisable (too risky as the nerve runs along the base of the brain), but in time some of the damage may heal on its own. The body truly is fearfully and wonderfully made!

Please continue to uphold Wal in your prayers; he is on the mend but still has a lo-o-ong way to go. We spoke candidly about many things tonight, as brothers and sisters are perhaps able to do after a(nother) life-threatening incident. (This is not the first—or second—time Wal’s loved ones have held what we thought was a “deathbed vigil” at his side; I pray it may be the last.)

Much of what we said to each other on the phone is personal, but I will say that I was delighted to listen to his lovely voice and hear his characteristic good humour coming my way across the continent and along the line. He knows he’s blessed to be alive (“lucky” is the word the doctor used), and that his life may even have a purpose. May our life-saving Creator help him find it.

{Be well, my brother. I love you.}

12 August 2009

Wallace update

As a result of the tremendous outpouring of concern and kindness since I first asked our global community to pray for my brother, I have decided to send the following auto-response update:

Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers. We are so thankful Wallace is mobile; there is no spinal or brain damage, although his facial injuries remain serious (both eyes and one ear are being monitored). Wal will see a maxo-facial surgeon (through one eye at a time) to discuss possible surgery on his crushed cheekbone(s).

I spoke to Wallace on Tuesday morning and he sounded ... wonderful! He was his old self, impatient to get on with life. My mom and sister have kept me updated daily and I spoke to my sister-in-law a minute ago; she’s looking forward to her hubby’s homecoming and hopes he’ll rest, hard-headed as he is (thankfully). Although Wal can’t see properly, he plans to be back at work as soon as possible. Imagine.

He was able to hold his baby girl, a highlight during these dark days, and many friends and relatives have visited him in hospital near Pretoria. Thank you all.

Although the road to full recovery is a long one, Wal is alive and we remain thankful that Chantal and baby Tyla Mari were not in the Jeep with him when it flipped over on our cousin’s farm road. Yesterday I saw photos of the Jeep’s shattered window and open sun roof, and Mari also sent photos of Wallace’s black ’n’ blue but beloved face. I am weeping as I type this, and remain in constant awe that my brother is alive. (I called his cell phone earlier simply to hear his voice.)

Personally, I am grateful for the compassion and care shown by our worldwide community this past weekend. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of my family. I have no doubt that Wallace’s life was spared by God, and I am humbled by our Creator’s grace and mercy.

Tyla Mari was delighted to see her daddy after his accident.

10 August 2009

Wallace goes through the roof

On the weekend my brother, Wallace Leach, was in a serious car accident, fracturing his skull and sustaining what we all thought were life-threatening injuries. His Jeep flipped after hitting a pothole on our cousin’s farm and Wal went through the open sunroof. When Bennie found him he did not think he was alive. He was taken by ambulance to hospital and moved to ICU; surgery seemed likely.

However, by today (Tues) he was sufficiently stable to be transferred from ICU to a normal ward. Hallelujah! No operations have been necessary (yet). We are so thankful there is no apparent spinal or brain damage, although his other injuries remain serious. There doesn’t appear to be further swelling on Wal’s brain, although there’s still some bleeding. He is talking and moving (or rather, fighting—a good sign), and even asked for wine gums, a mutual family favourite.

Update to follow.

06 August 2009

Eric the Half-a-Bee

P.S. Here’s a ditty by Monty Python and John Cleese about Eric the Half-a-Bee to cheer one and all:

(I need to check this link and will temporarily delete it; return later or google YouTube.)

Willow Creek Leadership Summit

Coming soon to a blog post near you.

05 August 2009

Making a bee-line

P.S. I am attaching Mary Anna Harbeck’s beautiful bee photo for your comfort and enjoyment. (See earlier post about "the wrong sort of bees.)

The wasp is added simply to attract sympathy.

Part ii: Robin goes south

I have learned that Robin’s journey is his own; I am not to take it personally when he slips away at times; it is not about me. My spouse reminds me that he is irrational during these days of darkness and that I need to accept his illness without trying to “fix” him. I am trying (very trying).

But—believe it or not—I am also learning to embrace the journey, where once I endured it. I have come to see these bouts of blue as a means to grow, to settle my soul, deepen my roots, be more aware of our daily—hourly!—dependence on God.

I am blessed to be walking this often rocky road—sometimes crawling, sometimes limping—but edging forward, one faltering step at a time. We are not alone, and I thank God for our hands-on Cochrane and Calgary community of kindness, and for friends far and near.

I am learning what it means to be covenant-bound, to care beyond the borders of comfort and ease. I am s-l-o-w-l-y learning to reach out and touch Robin’s life with a love greater than my own. (It’s taken long enough, eh?) My frail attempts do little to help—although frequent foot rubs and back massages do seem to help Robin fall asleep.

I also believe that I need to be (mentally) healthy in order to support my mate, and to that end I continue to live a full and rich life, seeking out life-giving friends and spending much time refuelling in solitude and silence.

Thankfully, we have dear friends (and neighbours-who-now-live-in-Pincher-Creek) who provided sanctuary when Robin most needed it. He stayed for a few days and returned home replenished in body and soul to continue his brave journey.

I am learning to say no more often so as to have the energy to say yes where necessary.

That’s my story. My spouse walks as though through molasses. His story does not mirror my own, and all I can do is walk alongside him—sometimes moving ahead or bringing up the rear, prodding him to action when necessary. And always, always praying, often without words.

In Mark Cohn’s “True Companions” one line reads, “When the years have done irreparable harm, I can see us walking slowly arm in arm.”

Please think of our family in the coming days. I know Robin is a private a person from a stoic family; I also know that writers need to tell their own story. This is mine, and I’m sticking to it.

04 August 2009

Part i: Double depression

And now for something completely different. Take a break and pour yourself a fortifying cup.

Recently Robin’s existing dysthymia (considered chronic or “double depression”) has been exacerbated by various triggers. People with dysthymia have a greater-than-average chance of developing major depression. This condition is sometimes called “double depression” because an external trigger can result in a depressive episode, which spirals him downward into a black hole. The usual feelings of low mood are then accompanied by the new intensity of emotion.

As dysthymia is a chronic disorder, a person may often experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, which was the case with Robin. His diagnosis a few years ago did not surprise me; I only wish we’d been able to get help sooner. I almost have to sedate him to get him to see a doctor (not an unusual trend in my family); he insists that they’ll find out what’s wrong with him at his autopsy. Hrmph.

Too often sufferers do not even discuss their symptoms with professionals, family members or friends. (How well I know that to be true. Sometimes I smile when I think about gentle solitude-seeking Robin from his seemingly safe, quiet and very private world choosing to marry into a boisterous family where some of us speak about everything to anyone.)

All this to say, Robin recently slipped into a deeper than usual depression. Thankfully he reached out to a friend who contacted the seminary, and two of my colleagues tracked us down in BC and spoke to Robin at length. They were wonderful. Since returning home he has been for counselling and will more than likely see a psychiatrist as soon as possible (meaning within several months in Calgary).

I do not pretend to understand his mental anguish, which is one of the reasons he reaches out mainly to friends who do—but I’ve certainly learned a great deal about depression since our journey began. Friends ask me if he brings me down, or if I pull him up. Possibly both, but for now the light is stronger than the darkness. May it ever be so.

All hands on deck, and the wrong sort of bees

As I began this letter (written on Heritage Day, 3 August 2009, and updated later), which sensitive readers may need to break into smaller segments (you’ll get the point in a few paragraphs), I was unsure what title to use: “How to provoke a hornet and survive nature’s sting” is perhaps too waspish; “Sting operation” seems too short. I settled for “All hands on deck” and threw in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh reference to pique the reader’s interest.

Put on the kettle and pull up a chair. Remember me? It’s been a while. My coffee companion, Warren Harbeck, wrote to ask, “What’s buzzin’ cuzzin?” when I droned on in a recent note. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened in the past few months {other than snow on your June birthday, Dad, which isn’t all that extraordinary in Alberta}.

We attended one June and one July wedding (where Robin was the primary photographer), and spent a couple of weeks in Surrey with a sweet and special family. Robin did the post-wedding photo processing at the bride’s home and gave her the albums when she returned from her honeyMoon.

This summer we’re also preparing for the semester ahead: my history-loving husband and I will be co-teaching History of Western Civ. All in all, life in Cochrane’s slow lane has been good.

Let me not forget the bevy of birthday boys and girls. My dear friend Tammy—with whom it is my privilege to spend Tuesday evenings—turned 40 in early July: that was special. And her twins celebrated their 7th birthday.

{Wallace and Dad, do you remember holding the newborn duo in July 2002 when you were last here visiting me?}

And Robin and I spent our annual week at the lake in Vernon with most hospitable hosts. No crises to speak of.

And then suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, all h*ll broke loose in the Phillips household. To test your sense of humour and of perspective, let me begin with today’s wasp attack (and this time I don’t mean those Anglo-Saxon Protestants).

I awoke before daylight (my blinds were drawn) to the melodious hum of my landlord’s chainsaw outside my bedroom window. Finding no alternative but join the crew as a deckhand, I dressed in a long-sleeved flannel shirt and work jeans and reported for duty. This week we are redoing our deck.

Yesterday after church I helped Mike and Pat clear the deck for the tasks of today, and decided to leave emptying the last of several planters (heavy black tyres filled with soil and a variety of tall ornamental grasses) for today because of the recent scorching mid-thirties temps. This morning as I pulled up a clump of grass, an angry array of black-and-yellow-jacketed bugs swarmed up from their cosy earth-nest.

My very first reaction was “Stay calm, they won’t sting you if you stand still.” (Not sure what movie that came from, but don’t try it at home.) Second reaction was an image of Winnie the Pooh holding onto a balloon while stealing bee-honey ... and getting stung by “the wrong sort of bees.”

Since I didn’t know if my landlord was allergic to wasps, my initial instinct was to protect him and get the nest away from him and off the deck. This reaction unearthed a chain of consequences, to say the least. “Mike!” I yelled (since that’s his name and expletives didn’t seem appropriate … yet), but he didn’t hear me because he was wearing ear protectors.
Then I performed what may well be my first ever supernatural act: I picked up the black rubber planter with its full load of earth and flora, and flung it down the deck stairs. (Bear in mind I have not been able to move these planters in five years, even with a helper.) I then jumped—stumbled—down the stairs, closely followed by Mike.

First I felt an unpleasant buzzing in my ear and yelped in surprise. Next I became aware of what seemed to be dozens of insects settling on my sleeves. And then the fiery darts pierced my skin and the wasp-venom entered my blood. (Isn’t that a truly theatrical sentence? See, I’ve made you read it again, savouring the word “fiery.”)

To find out how wasp toxins work, click on this link: http://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/wasp3.htm

All of this happened in a black-and-yellow blur. In retrospect, I should have left well enough alone and hightailed it off the deck as soon as I spotted the first incensed insect, but … we all know how hindsight works. I slapped wildly at my arms and started to run. “Get into the house!” I heard Mike’s wife yell from the garden below the deck. Instead I made a bee-line to my next door neighbour, Irma, who flung open the front door as she saw me sprinting up her pathway.

All swell that end swell: Mike and Pat were not stung, thankfully, and I received only a couple of stings on my arms and one in my ear. Yikes. A not-to-be-repeated adventure! Outfitted in a beekeeper’s head covering, Mike courageously returned to the scene of the crime and sprayed the nest, killing dozens of insects and hundreds of larvae. Irma kindly provided lotion for the stings on my arms and suggested I take an antihistamine (I doubled the dose); she also administered some much-appreciated pain meds.

Within minutes I was fine and my hands had stopped shaking. (I felt calm but may have acted hysterically.) Surprisingly, the swelling was minimal and I lessened the burn by applying an icepack. Now only an inner itch remains. Secretly I think it was the strong tea with sugar and the serenity of my neighbour-nurse that diminished the shock.

Research suggests that years of antihistamine injections for assorted childhood allergies paid off after all. {Mom, do you remember Dr. Des Sonnenfeld saying, “This is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me”? I always smiled at that.}

There’s more to this letter than meets the eye in this entry. See next post.

02 July 2009

July 3: Tammy turns 40

Happy 40th, Tammy!

03 June 2009

June 3: CPO, "Pops in the Park"

Stay tuned for photos of CPO's "Pops in the Park" ... and my favourite conductor, M. Pierre Simard.

02 June 2009

June 2: Spring concert in Cochrane

Stay tuned for photos of Riverside Jazz, Band on the Bow ... and the Red Hat Ladies!

31 May 2009


Dear NLSC Readers

The merry but busy month of May has ended well and June’s blank page awaits.

Happy Birthday
to all June babes—too many to name, although I must mention my newest niece’s imminent arrival this coming week: I’ll share the latest Leach news as soon as I hear from eager parents, Wallace and Chantal. {Godspeed, little Tyla.} I also feel compelled to highlight my Aunt Nel’s birthday on the 5th (my great aunt is the sole remaining sibling of my Ouma’s baker’s dozen); my Dad’s on the 6th; and my sister Mari’s on the 24th.

Remind me if your birthday is in June—please and thank you.

Now for the reason for this letter’s title:

This past week has been a trifle trying. On top of feeling low physically since our recent “heat wave” (27ºC on Friday)—my body no longer remembers how to cope with extended sunshine!—I’ve experienced a couple of wearisome people-encounters this week. I’ll spare you the details but to use a favourite student’s expression, it’s time for me to “pull up my huggies,” and get on with my life. I realise I’m not as thick-skinned as I claim to be (or as I once was, out of necessity).

To counterbalance my current loony/lunar cycle, several notes of grace and cheer have come my way during the past week (see postscript for one gem in particular that deserves a minute and 14 seconds of your time).

After my (fifth!) annual evaluation with our academic dean to check on my progress as an adjunct instructor, I gratefully accompanied my gardening neighbour to a nursery/greenhouse in town, and on the way home Irma and I stopped at Angel’s in Bowness for a swirl of soft serve ice cream. The next day I went for a long riverside walk in lieu of gym, and that afternoon I attended the piano recital of my family-friend’s twins (I practise being a “proud auntie” whenever I can). Ethan and Spencer are the sweetest six-year-old violin and piano players I know! I look forward to a twin-recital-filled future….

This weekend we also hosted a missions conference at our church. The speaker, Daniel Zapoula, gave the audience a priceless gift, one I pray I’ll treasure as long as I live … perspective. I’ve tried and failed to find adequate words to describe his moving message, and so I’ve taken the liberty of stealing a paragraph from a friend’s letter, hot off the cyber press. {I’ll write and ask for permission soon, LA!}

In her weekly Amstutz Journal, Lori wrote:

“We had the opportunity to listen to the experiences of [Daniel Zapoula] a bushman from Burkina Faso … He shared his story of what it was like … from being in a family of 35 children in Africa, to having the opportunity to receive an education here in Canada. What he shared with us helped put so much in perspective. What we consider big issues in our lives were dwarfed by his stories of simply trying to survive … He now runs a ministry called Bridges of Hope, where he helps those who are in the situations he faced as a young boy. Listening to him share was like a reverse missions trip. We didn’t have to go visit those who do not enjoy the comforts that we take for granted here in Canada and the U.S. We just listened to his stories first hand.” {Thanks, Lori.}

Daniel reminded us all to rise above earthly concerns—money, materialism, matters of no eternal consequence—and try and view life from a heavenly perspective; I’ve done so for only one day and already I find myself letting go of unimportant slights and hurts and perceived offences and losses, and focusing on what really matters: relationships.

After today’s rather intense sermon (punctuated by a chorus of Amens and Hallelujahs truly rare for Mennonites), the missions team enjoyed a leisurely lunch with our animated African guest until we dispatched him to the airport. On time.

My much-needed Sunday afternoon nap (although not uninterrupted) was a relief. Three neighbours rang the doorbell on separate occasions, but although I opened the door (they were rather insistent with their bell-ringing since they knew I was home), I resisted all their kind invitations to pop over and visit, celebrate a birthday, watch a movie or enjoy a hot tub. I seldom get headaches and this one’s lingering—I suspect from the symptoms that it’s a migraine—so I stood my (shaky) ground and continued my nap. I think I’ll start posting a “do not disturb” sign on my door for reasons of health and sanity. :)

Starting on July 1, I’ve decided to take the last/first day of the month off as a day of silence and solitude, unless I’m teaching. Within weeks I feel the effects of spending too little time on my own. I’m finally learning that, much as I love people, I need to honour the boundaries of my soul. I have more to give, more to write, more to say—heaven forbid!—when I’ve been alone for a day or two. I even speak more s-l-o-w-l-y, at least for a few days.

I can feel when I’ve been running too fast, and others can sense it too. I get more cranky than usual (!) and when labels I consider incorrect—such as “ADD” and “hyper” and “manic”—are unfairly applied to me, I really lose my cool. “Please don’t confuse enthusiasm for life with mania,” I somewhat snippily told a colleague at Tim Horton’s on Saturday.

(Even on calm, quiet days I am angered by labels, but a wise friend gently suggested on the weekend I look for the kernel of truth in how others see me. So: how do you see me? :) Risky question, eh?)

After my soothing slumber I called a dear friend for her birthday and was blessed by her gentle voice and kind encouragement. I am humbled by the mentors and fellow pilgrims God has placed on my journey. I learn so much from these wise counsellors and companions along the way.

Now for my nightly hour of writing and end-of-month bath … and then back to bed; tomorrow’s another beautiful day.

Grateful for a renewed sense of perspective tonight,
Elaine Mary

P.S. Just when I most needed cheering up last week, this inspiring snippet arrived in my Inbox, sent by my friend in Vancouver—whom I’ve known this year longer than I haven’t. “It’s all about attitude,” my friend reminded me. {Thanks, CW.} In the 1-min. 14-sec. video, Fran and Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) play an impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. Mr. Cowan turned 90 in February. Hope it makes your day:


24 May 2009

Part V: CPO in Cochrane, conducted by Maestro Pierre Simard

Yesterday (May 23) I attended a sumptuous spring brunch at our church.

Last night I dressed up and took myself out on a cultural date (“She wore blue velvet”) and sat beside retired colleagues and unretired friends Barbara and David. The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra played at our local Alliance Church and it was a performance too beautiful for words, so I’ll say nothing further. For now. (There is plenty to say about their magnificent music.)

The sunset photo (see above) was taken on my walk home after the show.

(Top right: that’s me with the CPO conductor, M. Pierre Simard, who spoke briefly to me in French—my skills are rusty, so the conversation did not last long—telling me what a plaisir it was to make my acquaintance. I’ll be sure to try and see him on Vancouver Island when I’m there visiting friends in the next few years. I had the privilege of attending a CPO concert last year in Calgary at the luxurious Jack Singer hall, conducted by Monsieur Simard. I admit I’m a tiny bit smitten.)

Today was a restful day, as Sundays always are in the Phillips household, our afternoon nap being mandatory. Now I’m catching up on mail before retiring with a good book. Work awaits in the morn!

Part IV: Eat s’more

On Friday night (May 22), in part payment for RP’s accounting and tax services (!) our Twelve Mile Coulee hosts cooked up a smorgasbord of savoury delights (curry ’n’ rice; butter chicken; samosas; veg ’n’ fresh fruit)—a culinary cornucopia, followed by s’mores around the fire pit! I was the only one with room remaining for the roasted marshmallows.

{Thank you, H&L. Same time next month?}

Part III: Sun ’n’ snow ’n’ rain

Next day:
Yes, it snowed—again—last Monday (May 18). It invariably does on the May long weekend. Amazing.

I took two pics of our garden and deck in the early morn just before the snow melted. “Spring has sprung, the grass is ris ...” I can hear it growing at night.

This past week has sped by. I’ve been feeling a tiny bit under the weather for a few days ... an odd occurrence almost each year when the warmer temps finally arrive. Too strange for words. (Just as well I live in a climate where it snows for nine months, eh?)

So, a glum few days followed after last weekend’s spring sun ’n’ snow. I was even told once that I’m allergic to sun! (Is there such an allergy?!) Nothing a bit of gardening in the rain couldn’t cure. I limit myself to no more than three hours at a time ... otherwise I awake the next day feeling old and rickety. After making and consuming a pot of homemade veggie soup I’m—well, right as rain once more.

{Thanks for your mid-week input, Paul J and Jef T, and for hand-delivering Mayfair’s sweet little twin, Piccadilly, to Glenbrook Pond Hippo Sanctuary.}

Part II: Shado ’n’ sunshine—and all things equestrian

The next day (May 17) after church, Roy harnessed his beautiful black half-Arabian horse to a buggy and took me for a 23ºC spin. (I even held Shado’s royal reins!) The weather was sunburn-warm and breezy, and I could hardly believe the farmer’s snow forecast for the next day. I’ve always admired horses from afar, even though I’ve had (too) little to do with them up close and personal. I hope that will change this year! A client of R’s has offered to take me out riding at Griffin Ranch soon. The countryside here is perfect for horse rides.

The last time I rode was in Banff with my brother, Wallace, in July 2002. How well I remember the bird-sized mosquitoes, sweet-blooded soul that I seem to be. We also went tubing on the Bow that summer, and speeding across Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver, discussing items on our life to-do lists.

{Great memories, Wal.}

Part I: Picnic in the park

What’s a picnic without watermelon?

Last Sunday (May 16)—after meeting our Fairman family at Java {thanks for Mayfair, the sweet little hippo!}—I spent part of the day picnicking with friends Evie and Roy at Big Hill Springs Park, north of Cochrane.

(I’ll post a few of Evie’s sweet pics if I figure out how to do so: DONE!)

We feasted on fellowship, hot chicken and cold salad, mouthwatering raspberry/peach cobbler and my favourite fruit. Any guesses? :)

Hubble-the-young-hippo—who belongs to (retired) Hroshi—joined us for a bite of watermelon, a walk in the woods and a swim in the creek. Hubble is the newest writer to join our gregarious herd of Glenbrook Pond hippos, entertaining us with her tales of Africa.

[Watch this space.]

09 May 2009

First week of May

Dear NLSC Reader

My writing accountability partner asked me to share a few interesting things I’ve been up to this past week; here are fourteen, more or less, plus a few special dates (I see they’re mostly people-related, which possibly explains my desire today for complete solitude).

1. Last Friday (May 1) my students’ grades were due; I submitted them to my registrar and sighed with relief.
2. After finalising my grades, I tried my weary best to complete both my already-overdue Baptist Horizon articles for May. I had begun compiling a Seminary Day piece (or rather, patching together the samples sent in by students to form a quilt of quotes), and input was rather s-l-o-w because of final exams. Our gracious editor granted us a welcome extension. May she be blessed and may the Shelton tribe prosper!
3. Late on Friday afternoon I popped next door for my monthly B12 shot; Nurse Irma is an angel—and has become a friend over the past 4½ years that we’ve shared a fence (and watched each other pull up weeds in our respective gardens). We also share the same birth date (Feb 2) and the left-handed gene; we currently have a (growing) list of at least a dozen bizarre common interests: e.g. same build, heritage, sport and cultural entertainment preferences, clothing style, (original) hair colour, favourite music and hobbies, etc. Too funny!

4. That night I attended a grad dessert during which the graduands shared humorous and moving anecdotes about their seminary experiences. I realised how much I had come to love them. This year was the first time two of the students I’d taught were graduating (next year there will be more, and two years from now I’ll have taught the entire graduating class of college students). Since all four courses I’ll be teaching in the coming year(s) are compulsory, I get to know all the undergrads. A perennial pleasure!
5. Saturday’s graduation ceremony was simply beautiful. The speaker, Pastor Rick Lamb, was splendid (I’ll request a transcript of his message so as to add a quote to the short grad piece I’ll write for the next edition of the Horizon).
6. On Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Dalhousie Community Church. My text was Ephesians 2:10; my topic “God’s Masterpiece.”
7. A tasty barbecue lunch (baby potatoes, grilled chicken, spinach salad, ice cream and fresh berries), prepared by Calgary friends Eleanor and Peter, refreshed our spirits and refuelled our bodies.
8. Our Sunday afternoon nap was definitely the most relaxing part of our weekend!
9. On Sunday night it was my joy to babysit for dear neighbours so that they could go on a date. Mahalia (4), Tobias (2) and baby Selah (6 months) were their usual sweet selves. Mom Andrea drove me home and we chatted for a further half-hour in the car. (Note: this is a rare exception to my no-babysitting policy.)
10. Monday? While out ’n’ about, moments after chatting to my friend in her garden, I bumped into my neighbour-colleague Susan taking her dog for a walk (or being taken for a walk); I came home feeling community-connected.
11. Tuesday: lunch at Norma’s on Railway Ave. with Brigitte R; prayer in the sunshine after coming home.
12. “Tuesdays with Tammy” is what I call my weekly coffee dates with my non-writing accountability partner; she remains a faithful friend after more than a decade of regular get togethers. We ordered art-lattes at Java and left only when the baristas kicked us out! Tammy, one of a tiny minority, truly does not think I talk too much. Believe me, I know my own faults (and if I didn’t I’d quickly be reminded by kith and kin), so it’s not hard being with someone who considers me a “scintillating conversationalist” when others wonder what language I’m speaking. :) I also love not having to decrease my rapid rate of speech in her company, as I do when I teach and preach (and interact with Southerners). Enough said.
13. Wednesday, May 6, was our 14th wedding anniversary. Suffice it to say: Robin is a saint. He’s a good man, a gentleman, and the only man on earth who tells me I talk too little! I admit, I am rather quiet at home, believe it or not. Even our landlords say they never hear me. My secret? I save my pearls for queenly friends who value my (many) words. :)

14. After gym on Wednesday with Wilmien and a new gym partner (Debbie R), Robin and I went to Norma’s for brunch (an annual tradition). Delicious!

Special dates:

Thursday, May 7, was my big brother’s birthday, and a much-needed
day of rest for me (other than checking the final pdf page layouts before the Horizon went to print); to celebrate the end of the semester, I started a new (unputdownable) book by Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. On Friday, May 8, my parents (Ian and Lynnette Leach) celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary!

CONGRATULATIONS, and Happy Birthday to all May babes (remind me who you are, please).

Today I’m catching up on some long-neglected domestic engineering, and tomorrow
(Sunday) I’ll spend Mother’s Day with our usual Little/Mung family (in celebration of Tammy’s mom). HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all moms! Thank you for your sacrificial love.

Monday is my monthly writing day, hooray! I’m finally learning to carve our cyber-silent time simply to write each week, and once a month I meet with someone whose writing goals match my own. I’ll join my friend in her peaceful sanctuary and we’ll check on each other’s progress, offering the mutual encouragement necessary for the somewhat solitary process of putting pen to paper.

Do write and tell me what interesting things you’ve been up to, dear Reader! Hearing from loved ones across the continent and around the corner still makes my day, after all these years as a global correspondent ...


06 May 2009

Emph Attic: 14th Phillips anniversary

Today, 6 May 2009 ...

... Robin and I celebrate fourteen years of having and holding, from that day (6 May 1995) forward, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and cherish ’til death us do part.”

(Hmmn, I recall saying “to honour and obey”!)

Celebrate with us!

Robin and Elaine Mary forever-Phillips

25 April 2009

Emph Attic: Hroshi the hippo turns 13

A hearty welcome to “Emph Attic”!

“Emph Attic” is a letter I’ll send out once in a blue moon, starting today, on days when the desire to share much ado about nothing simply cannot be quenched. It does not replace my regular Northern Lights/Southern Cross column (posted on this blog); however, the (non-blog) readership differs slightly.

Happy Birthday to all Readers (and hippos) born in April. Hroshi, our purple-eared hippo-child (who travels, writes books and generally brings cheer to the Phillips household), turned 13 today—or rather, we celebrated her 13th “birth” day with us.

In 1996, the Czech family with whom we lived in Prague during our memorable year in Europe sent her home with us to South Africa. Little did they know we’d immigrate to Calgary, Canada in 1998, taking our travelling companion with us!

Since then this amazing creature has accomplished much, considering the limitations of her stuffing-filled mind. She has continued to travel, make friends around the world (hippos are gregarious) and act as CEO of hippo communications inc. (co-run by Chief Financial Officer, Robin Phillips).

As many Readers already know, Hroshi and her unicorn friend, Evangeline, published an anthology of letters late in 2007 called The Hippo and the Unicorn. There are still a few copies left, and I have no foreseeable plans to order a new shipment, so please let me know if you’d still like a copy.

(Also remind me if you’ve ordered one and not yet received it: I lost my way, administratively speaking, sometime last year, and am only now finding it again.)

Among other interesting projects, Hroshi is currently working on a new book about her great-niece, Hubble (the sweetest little hippo-soul from Botswana). Watch this space!

Hroshi turns 13

Happy birthday, Hroshi!

11 April 2009

Apr 11: Holy Saturday

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter, dear regular NLSC Readers (and a few seasonal souls).

I am filled with awe as I think of what the resurrection means—if we let the truth of the cross of Christ touch our lives. Our God-given free will is simultaneously dangerous and splendid—and a complete mystery to me!

Last night I attended a Good Friday service at a local church and surprised myself by weeping bitterly throughout the closing song. I walked home through the park, and on impulse I opened the garden gate leading to my neighbours’ house and walked up the path to their back door. A party was in full swing and I was graciously invited inside. “Stay for supper,” they insisted. My earnest pleas(e) fell on deaf ears. I stayed.

Halfway through the meal, with a smidgen of embarrassment, I suddenly realised I’d already eaten with my hubby before I left for church! (Did that stop me from indulging in seconds, followed by decadent dessert? Not at all. I have a special storage space in my legs for delicious home-cooked meals. Just last week I saw a sign at the Dollar Store that read “Supper’s ready when the smoke alarm goes off.” Hmmn. Made for my kitchen. Robin orders his pizza crust extra-well-done, so as to remind him of my cooking. But I digress.)

After my Hobbit-like second supper last night—after which my hosts played a board game with their guests while I gratefully and gleefully washed the dishes; it’s so hard to get good help these days—we were all treated to several moving renditions of the guests’ favourite songs. I found myself in tears for the second time that evening. What beauty! What passion! What rich voices they both have. I shall certainly write more about this gifted duo if they follow their hearts and start singing in public again after a silent year.

And then today dawned sky-blue and clear with the unexpected promise of additional blessings. Can one solitary life contain such sweet abundance? On the spur of the moment, my writing-accountability-partner phoned and invited me for tea. Through the park I meandered once more, this time in the opposite direction, along the Bow River’s edge and all the way to River View. E and I chatted up a storm, heartily agreeing to continue our monthly meetings for the purpose of mutual encouragement, inspiration and edification. I left for home with a blithe spirit and happy heart.

I wasn’t home five minutes when the doorbell rang and another tea-drinker’s daughter asked if I’d join her mom at Tim Horton’s. I partly rebuttoned the shirt I’d been in the process of removing, slipped on my muddy shoes and headed back out the door!

Tea for two at Timmie’s was a treat, and two of my companion’s church friends joined us for part of our visit (you’ll be pleased to know we immediately switched to our common tongue in the interests of enhanced communication). Cochrane community certainly has the power to cheer one’s heart and lift one’s spirits—not that my spirits needed a lift after my amiable amble through the park, greeting bicycle riders and dog-walkers and familiar picnicking families and spring-cheered children.

Now it’s time for bed after a most satisfying holy day spent visiting and equally satisfying pre-Easter night spent writing.

Be of good cheer: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

P.S. Brad, may I please share the following bluefishTV Easter video from your blog?

29 March 2009

Let it snow!

[March snow photos to be inserted here.]

What's in a name?

[Sermon outline to be added here.]

17 March 2009

St. Patrick's Day at Mount St. Francis

[Photos of MSF, Hermitage hut]

01 March 2009

Dan's song

Tonight, for the second time in two weeks, I surprised myself (and my spouse and neighbours) by offering to babysit once again. The three little Rempels were angels; the oldest had put herself to bed by the time I arrived (she does that when she's tired), the second was lying quietly in bed, enjoying his last sippy cup for the night, and the third nodded off later in the evening after a warm bottle of her favourite drink.

(Although I have known each of the Rempel children since birth, and obviously love them equally, this little newborn has completely stolen my heart.) Last week I tried to talk her mommy and daddy into leaving their baby behind when they went out on their date, but they chose to take her along; this week she and I stayed home together and enjoyed some (baby) girl time. I dealt with long-overdue correspondence; she gurgled and made soothing baby sounds and finally slept. (And no, I haven't been lulled into a false sense of peace by these brief babysitting experiences; I visit our neighbours frequently enough to be familiar with the trio's top decibels.)

An incident that moved me to tears occurred when my charges' mommy and daddy came home after their coffee date. Dan's best friend also popped by, and Andrea asked her hubby to sing their wedding song for the four of us. Although he was reluctant at first, he finally agreed, warning us that he had been only twenty-one when he wrote it for his bride.


I cried through the entire rendition (I think Andrea did, too). It was the loveliest wedding song I'd heard in years—possibly since our own wedding day, fourteen years ago—and Dan’s lyrics affected me profoundly. What struck me was that this young composer had no idea at the time how his life would unfold, and his wife admitted the words were even more real to her now than then. Dan sang of storms to come, and of his commitment to his new family, and of the sword of hope to be found in Christ ...

In the past four years, their household has been blessed with the births of four children. One of these darlings has died, and the storms have raged. Yet here they stand: trusting in the healing and hope found only in their Creator. When their sorrows overwhelm them and they stumble and fall, they get up again. And again. God provides family and friends for the journey. His love reunites and gently carries them through each new season of pain, and growth, and victory.

Robin and I are proud of our young friends. They have lived such full lives already, and we look forward to growing old, old with them.

22 February 2009

Late night thoughts on February 22

My neighbour celebrated his 28th birthday today, and on impulse I phoned his wife this morning and offered to babysit their kiddies if they wanted to go out tonight. (They did. I’m not sure who was more surprised by my offer: my friends, my spouse or myself! I seldom babysit for anyone. Never, in fact.)

I returned home about an hour ago and was preparing for bed when I felt the urge to capture a few thoughts about my day.

Thought #1: It is a privilege being part of a community of kindness.

Both here in Cochrane and at our church in Calgary, Robin and I are surrounded by people who care ... about us, about others, about God. We do not wish to take this for granted, ever. Some of our friends care passionately about the environment, or about education, or about instilling godly values in our children. Others care for those in prison, in hospital or in crisis. Still others care about the powerless, the marginalised, the oppressed, the forgotten. Several talented artists, writers and musicians inspire us by caring about beautiful images, stories and sounds. And I can think of at least half a dozen political and social justice activists in my circle of friends. At work my kingdom colleagues care about sharing Good News with anyone who has ears to hear. Personally, I care about words, and the power they carry for healing and encouragement.

Thought #2: I have been challenged to care for “the least of these” in a new way.

Today in church our youth pastor preached from Matthew 25, creatively using Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who by way of illustration. {Great job, Tom.} I will reflect further on his sermon; much food for thought.

Thought #3: Today I realised (or rather, remembered) that each of us has different dreams, callings and spiritual gifts.

During a recent London Fog-sharing visit with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, my gift was to encourage her in her calling (although for personal reasons I have chosen not to fully embrace her particular cause). I recognise that if I were to spend my time moping about not having a “worthy” enough occupation—in comparison to those of my eclectic range of loved ones—I’d fail to use the talents I have been given (biblically speaking). At least once every year or two I wade through this idiotic pool of comparison, and always, always, my life work seems insignificant during the exercise (a fruitless one, to say the least). But deep down I know my life is full and rich and good—and scandalously privileged. I see that.

I also believe I’m obeying my Father by using my inherent gift of encouragement to uplift the hearts of those around me—even though the effects cannot be measured, and no one’s life is saved because of my passion for sharing words of joy. But share I must. It’s as natural to me as breathing.

These were some of my thoughts on this wintry February night. Comments? Feel free to share your own passions/calling with me ...

28 January 2009

Good remembering

Today in chapel (Wed, Jan 28) my colleague Barry Nelson preached from 2 Peter 1. I'll type up some of my notes another day (perhaps even on another blog, since I've been thinking about starting to collect the cornucopia of ideas so many wise mentors share with me), but for now let me tell you about his title: "Good Remembering."

He reminded us to ... well, remember.

And I do remember.

I remember when we arrived in Canada in '98 and knew not a single soul in Alberta. Now we are surrounded by a community of kindness here in Cochrane, and Calgary, and Canada-wide. (Some days we even choose to field phonecalls because we receive too many for comfort.)

I remember when we owned not a stitch of furniture because our container had sunk in Hurricane Mitch, and our church family provided for us materially (and spiritually) in ways we still find hard to comprehend, a decade later.

I remember walking through the doors of Dalhousie Community Church and hearing "Shine, Jesus, shine" being sung -- a favourite of mine since our days at Bedfordview Methodist Church back in South Africa (where I began attending as a pre-teen, and walked down the aisle to marry my lifemate a dozen years later). We have been at home at DCC ever since -- and just last Sunday we sang "Shine, Jesus, shine" once again.

I remember every stranger in the church and wider community who treated us with warmth and affection when we were still aliens in their midst. Now we are friends. Those early friendships have matured and blossomed over the years, and we are in awe when we look back ... and remember.

I remember enrolling at the local Baptist seminary in 2000 (with the dubious blessing of my Mennonite pastor, who thought I would have a more heterogeneous experience in Fresno, CA; I reminded him I was from Johannesburg, and that a bit of Cochrane's homogeneity wouldn't harm me). I was a bit apprehensive at what a Master's degree in Divinity would entail, and I went out to King's Fold to make my final decision about whether or not to study full-time again (I had just completed a Master's degree in Linguistics in '97/'98 and was loathe to subject myself to further mental discipline). And now, nine years later, I'm still at the seminary, loving my job as an adjunct instructor, and working alongside the very mentors who guided me so patiently through many of my own spiritual and intellectual battles.

I remember meeting a special family at a dessert fellowship hosted by our new church. We chose to stay at DCC, and they chose to leave, but during that first meeting of the minds (and hearts) we bonded. Now we have been adopted into their extended family, comprising a Canadian mom and dad, three sisters and three brothers (roughly our ages), and an assortment of children we've known since birth. We have the privilege of spending special occasions together as a family, and not a month goes by without one of us celebrating a birthday or sacred event. Tomorrow R and I will join two of our family/friends for a Chinese meal in Calgary, in celebration of our Jan 25 and Feb 2 birthdays.

I remember when the hippo and unicorn book was a mere dream in 2004, and now I've sold the 250 copies I set out to sell (and give away!). And my new dream is to write on my own -- a book a year, lofty as that goal seems at present. I will cherish this dream, and work a bit each day to turn it into a reality. And I will remember.

{Thanks, Barry N, for your timely reminder today in chapel.}

Let us remember, and give thanks.

25 January 2009

Pre-birthday weekend

What a wonderful weekend I spent out at the King's Fold Retreat and Renewal Centre: words hardly seem adequate. The food was soul-satisfying, the fellowship sweet, and the teachings divine. Rob Low, a longtime friend of King's Fold, was our retreat leader; he used to work there full-time when I first visited what soon became one of my favourite sacred spaces in '99. (Now he and I enjoy monthly mini-retreats at Mount Saint Francis, a Catholic retreat centre closer to home.)

Because the New Year, New Life retreat took place so close to my birthday, I chose to stay in the Hideaway instead of the main lodge {with apologies to Dee}. The Hideaway is a tree house situated in the forest, a short distance from the chapel. I have been going there each year to celebrate my birthday in solitude and silence, but this year I may do something a bit different on Feb 2nd, so I combined the retreat and my annual tree-treat.

All in all, I was refreshed in body and spirit, and I returned home with my joy fully replenished. After a weekend away, I am more able to carry whatever life brings, and my hubby is gracious (and wise) enough to encourage my time away from the usual array of responsibilities (and burdens?) we both bear.

R has been suffering in his own spirit of late, and we trust that the darkness will lift in due course. Several factors in combination play a role; it's hard to find one specific trigger. But Tax Season cometh, and we both know that we need to be strong for the season ahead. I have noticed that his sadness is not affecting me as much this week as in bygone days; I am actually able to help him deal with his depression in ways I wasn't able to even a year ago, and that brings us hope. Despite the occasional poverty, life is rich and full and good. And our Creator is faithful. We have not been given more than we can bear, and in that we take comfort.

I am truly content during this pre-birthday week. This has been my best year to date ...